Parts of this interview originally appeared in my Pop and Hiss article on Wale. More on Attention Deficit tomorrow, maybe.
So judging from the title of Attention Deficit, its wide-ranging sound, and interviews that you’ve given, it seems like it’s your commentary on the fragmented nature of the Internet world, with a million blogs, twitters, and dozens of mixtapes released daily, How hard is it for an artist to create something that has a life span longer than the next blog post?
I think a lot of the blogs are selfish, they don’t really care. There might be five or six really legit hip-hop blogs, your Rap Radars, your Nah Rights, your 2 Dope Boyz, and others, but some that are very minuscule, if you don’t give them what they want, they’re going to shit on you. I think that their visitors aren’t even 1/1000th of another blog that you’ve already done an interview for and they want one to do one with them too.
Q-Tip one time told me that 15 years ago, all people had to judge you on was your album, one or two interviews, your record for the radio and picture on the album cover. That’s it. The only way you can remain relevant is to give yourself up, unless you’re blessed every once in a while there’s a Drake situation, but that’s not even once in a while, that’s a once thing.
But that’s pretty much a different stuation unto itself. A lot of people watched Degrassi, a lot of girls watched Degrassi.
And now they’re more mature and can hear words like fuck and shit. Look, I’m happy for what happened to dude. But the game is just completely impossible now. You have to give yourself up. That’s why I’m so frequently on Twitter, it’s because I don’t have a big record out right now. I don’t have a lot of things to explain and prepare people for the person they’re about to listen to.
Do you ever feel like forgetting about Twittering. I mean as a journalist, sometimes your editor will want you to Twitter a show or something and you always have the option of saying, ‘no, I don’t want to do something like that.’
Yeah, that’s why I take sabbaticals. It’s difficult because you can see how many people already have the leak of your album, and there’s always all these people that are like ‘@ Wale, fuck you Wale, you pussy, I hope you die.’ Back in the day, it took time to write a letter, fold it, mail it.
It’s just the nature of the Internet. Every time you write something there’s always the possibility that some asshole is going to go into the comment section and say, ‘fuck you, asshole, you’re the worst writer ever, blah, blah.’ The Internet gives them that sort of power in anonymity.
It’s so easy to just do that. It makes people feel like they’re tough enough to say it to your face, they’ll write things like ‘if I ever see you, I’ll…’ I’m like dawg, I’ve been to every major city, I don’t have a security detail, I’ve never met a person who’d say that to my face. Twitter has empowered a lot of people who don’t deserve any power.
You could probably say that about the nature of blogging too.
Everybody’s everything. Everybody’s a blogger, rapper, producer, artist.
All you need is fruity loops and a microphone. But then, you’re one of the few who has been able to get some critical mass on the Internet and use it as a positive tool.
That’s true and I appreciate it, but the thing about me that’s often forgot, is that I had a very good street following as well at the same time.
Yeah, a lot of the guys who have Internet fame didn’t have that sort of following where they could sell-out shows. I’m not going to put this athlete’s name out there but there was a really big weekend in DC and his whole his entourage was at my show, this for a guy with no record deal and who worked at the Van’s shoe storem and they were at my show.
Yeah, those early mixtapes had some really great songs on them. I feel a lot of the popular perception is that everything began with 100 Miles and Running but they don’t know about “Dig Dug” or “Cuz I’m African,” which was probably, at least in my opinion, your first really great song that set up where you were going to go after that.
I didn’t even know if people were hearing it outside of DC. I wasn’t paying attention to that sort of stuff, I’d be at work and sometimes someone would be like my man in Texas likes your song. I didn’t get it.
When did that change, when [Wale’s manager] Weisman came in?
Yeah, he put me onto a lot of this Internet stuff.
Do you ever look at this like it’s your 6th album? Is difficult to have to keep on creating mostly free content to keep on feeding the Internet-era appetite for new music?
I’m in a different place with those then I was on my album. I don’t care as much about the mixtapes. I say what I want to say, but on the actual album I was a lot more careful, I’d re-write things two or three times just to make sure things were perfect.
At the same time, with Mixtape about Nothing, there were a lot of songs that obviously took a lot of time and thought.
Yeah, but I was in another zone there too.
What kind of zone?
Just analyzing life and television and watching Seinfeld. I was sick, I had the flu and I was watching Seinfeld all day and just thinking about what I was going through and the idea just came to me.
Some of the songs of there were very powerful songs. In particular, “The Kramer” might have been my favorite song of last year. What was the inspiration behind it?
I was on my couch, just chilling and thinking about different things and then I started jotting it down, I started sweating when I was writing because I was so into it.
Now that Obama’s president do you feel that anything’s changed in terms of self-image?
I mean, you talking about my image?
Your image, but also, I imagine that you were speaking for a lot of people as well. At least, that’s how I interpreted it.
I mean, not really. Sometimes, I just don’t know with this whole Internet thing, I don’t know if shit changes. Sometimes, it feels so right and you feel like you’re going to move a mountain and then Lil Wayne drops a freestyle and it takes over everyone’s attention and you’re like, well I just wrote something that could actually change the way people look at things.
I’m not one of those Gucci haters but I’m not convinced he’s the second coming either. I think he’s got a place and you know if you’re at a club and “Wasted” comes on, that’s cool. “Gorgeous” is a good song, etc. But do you ever wonder how you can compete with someone that can just drop three mixtapes at once or a dozen of them in one year, when your method of writing would seem to be a lot slower and more time-consuming than that?
The thing about that, you gotta understand that’s like two different genres. You got like Madonna and Whitney Houston. Whitney’s gonna belt the song out there. Madonna doesn’t have to vocalize, do crazy things on the track. She can probably put out music a lot faster. Gucci’s music is easy on the ear, my shit is like close your eyes and listen. Gucci’s music is relax, smoke a J, chill with the bitches. My shit is just different, you can probably make that music a little quicker. He’s not trying to do what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to connect with people on an emotional level. I’m trying to touch their souls.
But I imagine that takes a lot more time.
Oh definitely. You have to see what’s going on, see what’s happening on in your life and the world. Whereas with Gucci, it’s more based on the lifestyle, it’s about one specific type of lifestyle. Mine’s about life, that’s about a lifestyle.
The thing is that on all your mixtapes and album’s there’s at least one thing that tackles a really complex life issue that isn’t really addressed in most contemporary rap music. Like I think “Shades” on the new album is an incredibly powerful song. Or even “90210,” which will probably get a lot of flak from people who just haven’t been around those type of people, but there are a lot of them and just because a song is about a segment of people you might not typically care to associate with, it doesn’t make it any more or less valid.
“Shades” was something I’d always wanted to talk about, but I’d never had the opportunity to do, but when I heard the beat I just started vibing to it. We actually had to change it– 9th was the original producer on, but we couldn’t clear the sample so we had to get a different beat. But that song means a lot to me, I wrote and recorded it a few years ago and that’s my story, it makes sense that it would be on the first album.
So when are you working with Camp Lo?
Ah man, I don’t know.
You heard the new album?
I haven’t heard it. I tried to get it when I was at the airport on my iPhone, but I couldn’t.
I think it might be the best thing they’ve done since Uptown.
That’s crazy. That’s one of my favorite. When I was going to Virginia St. my routine every night was to put on Uptown Saturday Night and I’d go to sleep to it.
So how do you feel about your song “The Perfect Plan” in the context that now your album is on the verge of finally seeing release. I thought that there was a lot of truth to it, with the analogy of someone like a Soulja Boy whose fans will buy the single and his ringtone, they’ll watch whatever he throws up on You Tube. Then you have someone like MOP, who are one of the greatest groups of all-time, and their latest album sold 2,100 copies.
A new MOP CD?
Yeah, it had zero promotion and it was on Koch, but still. They have a lot of fans, but not necessarily ones that are still buying CD’s.
Yeah, it’s like if MOP plays Rock the Bells, they’re going to have the crowd going crazy. But yeah, I think there’s a sort of elitist element in a lot of hip-hop fans, they’re too good for everything. Whereas a 16-year old who is going to be like ‘LOL Smiley Face’ is probably going to cop the new Trey Songz CD.
So do you ever think that you’d rather cultivate Mos Def-type fanbase than say, a Drake type fanbase?
I don’t know. I really don’t know what my fanbase is. I don’t think anyone knows. It’s so weird. On one hand, they’re like Wale is the new Common or Mos Def, and on the other hand, people say Wale is the other Drake. On the other end, people are like Wale is the new Jay-Z. On the other, they’re like Wale is the new Talib. I don’t think anybody knows. There’s definitely some commercial appeal, but I’m not sure if I can put my finger on it. It’s interesting, because when I did my radio tour, all these people, all these pop stations, I was like ‘dawg, you don’t care about me, you only care about me because I did a record about Gaga. You don’t know nothing about me, you don’t know nothing that I’m going to do, you probably don’t care what I’m going to do, and the only reason why I’m even here is because I did a record with Gaga.
In a lot of urban markets, they know who I was, they cared about me, they knew my grind and my struggle, but there wasn’t anything for me to give them at that point. It’s something I’m trying to figure out. And yet, we sell out shows all the time.
You have been for a while too. I remember you and Blu sold out the Key Club last year.
But it’s like I’m not a radio artist, at least at this point. Pharrell says I am. Jay says I am, but I’m not at this point. I did “Chillin.” For all intensive purposes, it was what it was. But nothing stuck, at least stuck the way that I had hoped. But there’s still fans coming by the boatload, so that’s something.
But I think the thing is that you’re setting yourself up for a long career. Your music connects with people and there’s not a lot of major label rappers left that do that.
I think so. I mean I don’t think I’m going to peak for another four or five years. The label only shipped 30k, and that might be a low estimate, but no one really knows. It could do 30, it could do 80, no one knows.
If you don’t sell crazy numbers, do you think this is something the label is prepared to accept?
Well, if they’re shipping 30 then they should be happy with 30. That’s a third of what Cudi actually sold. They normally ship half what they do. So they’re expecting me to do 15, hopefully it won’t. But look, the album leaked two weeks early and the difference between me and Jay, whose album leaked two weeks early, is that 80 percent of Jay’s fans aren’t Internet savvy like that. They don’t go to blogs, but that’s 90 pecent of my fanbase, and they’ve already got it.
Or take a dude like Rae, many of his fans are on the Intenret, but there were a lot of hard core old-school fans that didn’t know his album leaked and copped it in the store.
I feel Raekwon is inventing a new type of veteran rap for hard core hip-hop. Raekwon did 50 first week?
I think 60.
If I could do 60, that’d be great.
It’s hard, the Internet fans are fickle. When your album leaked, a lot of my friends were shitting on it, but I was defending it because I think it’s a good album, but the problem is that you did The Mixtape About Nothing, 100 Miles and Running and Back to the Feature in the last 24-months. That takes away a lot of the shock value as if you were a new artist that just released their first album.
I don’t think anyone knows what they want from me– they can’t pinpoint their expectations. I could’ve given people everything they wanted, but they still wouldn’t know what they want. I really think it’s going to stand the test of time. I believe in it.
I thought you did a good job of hitting the different demographic targets that the labels require of artists to allow them to put out a record. I mean, it’s very clear that you have to jump through a lot of hoops just to get a release date.
I’m a people person. I’ve been around a lot of people and different demographics. I grew up with Spanish kids, African kids, black kids, white kids, this is my life, and I’m trying to keep it 100 percent real.
Did you ever think about releasing Mixtape about Nothing as a commercial album, provided the lawyers could’ve cleared it?
Most of it revolved around the dialogue. We never could’ve been able to clear it.
I understood why you wouldn’t want to do it, because it’s a little gimmicky, but I was sort of disappointed that you didn’t run with the Back to the Future theme on Back to the Feature.
I could’ve, but since I was doing it with 9th, I didn’t want to built my brand on using his beats. I just knew it would be too much.
Have you been recording anything new?
I’ve just been on this tour.
How’s the tour going?
I’m exhausted. But I’ve got to keep going, I’ve got to keep pushing.
You going to take a break when it’s over?
Oh yeah, definitely. Take a long vacation.
You check out the new season of Curb?
Nah, haven’t had a chance to.
Ever get into Woody Allen movies. I’d think you’d like it considering you’re such a big Seinfeld and Larry David fan.
Nah. Any recommendations?
Well, the default go-to is Annie Hall, so I’d say just start there. It’s a pretty hilarious movie. It won best picture in 1977.
Word. I’m going to check for that.
Why were there so few songs from Best Kept Secret on the album? Was that a label thing?
Nah, I just wanted to share some different sounds with people. The album wasn’t designed to have just one sound, that’s why it’s called Attention Deficit.
So you also worked with Dave Sitek too? Does that dude ever smile.
Why do you say that?
The man looks like a serious dude.
Nah, that’s funny. He’s not like that at all. Maybe he’s different around different people.
Nah, I’ve never met him, but in all of his photos he looks like he’s ready to kill a man just to watch him die.
Nah, we just get high and make music. He’s a really funny dude.
What basketball team do you root for? You a Wizards fan?
Yeah, but I gotta be honest, I’m not the biggest Wizards fan. I usaully root for the Nuggets and the Cavs.
You a big Lebron fan?
Who do you think’s going to win this year?
Denver looks good but it’s too early to say.
Chauncey Billups is one of those dudes…
He’s a Hall of Famer.
Whenever he is he just wins….So in ten years where are you going to be?
Still making music, happily married with a couple kids, living, happy, relaxed and hopefully everyone will understand who Wale is.
Who is Wale?
Just a passionate dude. I’m passionate in my music and in life. I speak from the heart in everything, Twitter, whatever it is. I might be the most honest person in the industry and that might be my biggest problem, a lot of people in the industry are too good at being fake.