Wale wasn’t satisfied. Already a hip-hop heavyweight, complete with a Grammy nomination and a Soul Train award for 2011’s “Lotus Flower Bomb,” he felt the need to change his sound. Wale wanted to stand out in a crowded music scene.
“It was all about making a connection with my fans,” says the artist born Olubowale Victor Akintimehin. “This is one sound, very soulful … something a little different, more exciting.”
“The Curse Of The Gifted” is the first track off his third studio album, “The Gifted,” which was released June 25. The song opens with the rattle of a spray paint can before a deep, almost bluesy bass beat takes over.
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Perhaps the most telling line comes right away when he spits, “I’m honestly still looking for some type of balance.” He’s seemingly found it. “The Gifted” sold 158,000 copies in its first week. By July, Wale had edged out peers J. Cole and Kanye West for the top spot on the Billboard 200.
“I showed a lot with this album,” Wale says. “A lot of music people didn’t think I had this kind of range.”
Now the D.C. native is on nationwide tour with an old friend.
“It was long overdue,” Wale says of joining forces with J. Cole on what the pair are calling the What Dreams May Come True tour. “We used to talk like if we ever got a break, if we ever made it big, we would do this. We put out stuff before, but never on the level like we are now.”
On “The Gifted,” Wale draws on everything from blues to jazz to comedy. The last track features Wale and comedian Jerry Seinfeld discussing their upcoming project, “The Album About Nothing.”
If it seems like a weird pairing, it is. If it seems like a joke, it’s not. Seinfeld is a huge fan, and vice versa. The two linked up after a concert in Baltimore and stayed in touch. Since then, they’ve been spotted hanging out in the studio together.
But when you ask Wale who was the most exciting person he’s ever worked with, he doesn’t hesitate.
“Rihanna,” Wale says. “She’s such a big star. It was just an honor to be able to do that.”
The two teamed up to remix Wale’s chart-topping single, “Bad.” While many global superstars will record a hook, send it over and let a sound editor patch it together, Rihanna met Wale and they recorded it live.
“We were just chilling, just vibing, making music,” he says. “She’s a down-to-earth chick.”
The track was an instant club banger. In fact, the entire album is — thanks to guest appearances by Nicki Minaj, Juicy J, Rick Ross, Wiz Khalifa, 2 Chainz and others. “The Gifted” reads like a who’s who list of the hip hop world, with one very notable exception: his tour-mate, J. Cole.
It’s interesting considering they are two of the fastest rising stars in the industry, maybe the two most likely to steal the throne from Jay Z and Kanye West. When talk of a collaborative album with Cole comes up, Wale’s voice perks up.
“Yeah, at some point,” Wale says. “That would be a good idea … if time permits.”
The Kendrick situation
One of Wale’s peers, Kendrick Lamar, caused quite the stir — scratch that, the LA emcee literally put the hip-hop world on notice — last month when he declared himself the best in the game.
Lamar put several rappers on blast, including Wale, whom he mentioned by name in a verse on Big Sean’s “Control.”
Wale wouldn’t comment on the verse. In fact, when the topic came up, he hung up on this reporter and ended the interview. However, he did note that he doesn’t really listen to his peers. He keeps his iPod tuned to the greats, like Biggie Smalls.
“I listen to the legends,” he says. “I try to learn from them. I don’t really pay attention to what’s going on now.”