Saturday, July 11, 2009
Wale Interview w/ Pitchfork
Washington, DC rapper Wale has been bubbling up on mixtapes-- including last year's "Seinfeld"-sampling Mixtape About Nothing-- for years, and now he's finally ready to release his official debut LP, Attention Deficit, this summer on Allido/Interscope. The album features production work from Cool and Dre, J.U.S.T.I.C.E League, Mark Ronson, 9th Wonder, Green Lantern, and Sean C & LV, as well as TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek, and guest spots from Chrisette Michele, Jazmine Sullivan, Q-Tip, and Bun B.
We caught up with the rapper as he traveled between cities last week on his current nationwide tour and talked with him about the mixed reaction to his new single with Lady Gaga, how to maintain mixtape cred on a major label, and details on what we can expect from his forthcoming album.
Pitchfork: You've had a lot of success on the mixtape circuit, but now you have to cater to a bigger audience with your first official single, "Chillin'". How's that working out?
Wale: It's kind of...a lot of songs just take a little bit of time. I actually read the review of "Chillin'" on Pitchfork and I was glad they gave me a little heat, but I felt like they understood it. I wasn't like, "Oh, my ego!"
Pitchfork: I imagine it's tough to satisfy hardcore hip-hop fans while collaborating with someone like Lady Gaga, who those fans may not like.
Wale: People might just be like, "Oh, she's another Britney." But, to me, she's so dope, just as far as her art and her style.
Pitchfork: She definitely seems to put a lot of thought into her outfits, too.
Wale: It's very strategic.
Pitchfork: Also, since you reference M.I.A. on "Chillin'"-- and the hook kind of sounds like M.I.A.-- I was wondering if you tried to get her to sing it at some point.
Wale: Nah, nah. Me and Dre [of Cool and Dre] were smoking in the studio and he just started humming. Then we just had one of our home girls come in and write to the melody. It sounded a little bit like M.I.A. but Dre came up with it. We love M.I.A., but it was nothing like that.
Pitchfork: How many songs are going to be on the album?
Wale: Probably 12.
Pitchfork: Was it hard to pick just 12?
Wale: Extremely hard, oh my goodness. You grow to love something and then the bigwigs are like, "We don't have enough room for that song." It's like an abortion. We're still arguing about a couple.
Pitchfork: What can people expect from the stuff that does make the cut?
Wale: Well, I feel like the whole "hip-hop is dead" thought process came about because some younger guys were making music that's so disposable. I'm not necessarily trying to change that-- it would be crazy to say I'm going to change it-- but I want to provide something different.
Pitchfork: But there's definitely a place for something like "Turn My Swag On", right?
Wale: There definitely is. I just think there needs to be more of a balance.
Pitchfork: Right. But, then again, Lil Wayne put out the biggest album of last year and it was incredible-- that represents a pretty good balance to me.
Wale: It's okay to have fun, I ain't no square.
Pitchfork: TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek produced a song on the record, right?
Wale: Yeah, it's called "Triumph". It's like futuristic Afrobeat meets like O.G. Pharrell meets an African marching band. It sounds like music from 2025. I talked with Dave for about 20 minutes and then he made it from scratch. There are horns on there and everything.
Pitchfork: When you collaborate with someone like Dave Sitek, are you purposely aiming to please a hipster audience?
Wale: Not at all, that's real wack. It's like picking a trendy team in football. We don't do trendy. People can do their little wack hipster thing, but I was the first one to rock on a Justice track. When Jim Jones did it nobody says nothin' but when I did it, it was like, "Aw, that's a hipster rap."
Pitchfork: What are some other songs that stand out to you from the album?
Wale: I have a sequel to my mixtape track "Artistic Integrity" called "Center of Attention", produced by J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League. It's about how a lot of people feel like a celebrity's life is way more important than theirs. Like, [raps] "You ain't tryin' to find where Osama is, you're trying to find where Rihanna is."
There's another one called "Her Diary" about the insecurities of a black female. I meet a lot of women and talk to them on the phone and indirectly find out a lot of their insecurities. You could be the most genuine guy in the world but sometimes you can just tell a girl's got that I've-heard-it-all-before mentality. The song dissects that idea.
The whole album is just my deep thoughts. I usually don't let people in that much on mixtapes-- I just talk that shit. But on the album I took my time to say what's really going on. I'm walking you through what it was like being a dark-skinned dude growing up and having insecurities about light-skinned dudes getting all the girls. I don't have a resentment towards light-skinned women, I have a resentment towards my own confidence or lack thereof.
But it's not too hard to understand. You're not going to hurt your head trying to listen to it.
Pitchfork: I imagine that it's hard for someone like you to translate your dense mixtape style for a major label audience without losing some of that cleverness.
Wale: Well, I didn't lose it. There's this song "Beautiful Bliss" where I get to talk my shit. I'm saying stuff like: [raps] "Another day up in my ES/ Wish it was an LS/ But elastic is my wallet, fuck it/ I don't be stressed like relaxed muscles/ Your feedback ain't plussin'/ Then you can keep it runnin' like a muffler when we not in summer/ They like A-list actors, they not no stunners/ Too much practice now for me to malfunction/ So any beat that function, I breathe on and puncture/ Leave it like a female vee-gina puncture/ Waitin', showin' you her beauty if she's naked/ Just like the view of a painting of a lake here/ This is how beautiful my day is, peep me while I'm raisin' up the capital from nah-thin'/ Capital I'm raisin' like I'm through punctuatin'/ Or shiftin' keys or an 'I' placement/ 'Cause shiftin' keys gets your capital raised up."
I can put in my little parts where it's like, "Did you hear that?" You're never gonna forget that I can rap with the best of them. I want to show you that I can tell a story now. I want to show you that you can paint my picture, that I know what's going on outside.
There's not a lot of honesty in music in general. Even if the music is really good, it's just like, "Come on, dog. Are we supposed to believe that?" All my stories are stuff that's really happening to people every day. "Be Right" is one where I'm talking about how you get out of school and you've got a masters and you think you're about to get some money but there are no jobs. Now you're doing something that has nothing to do with your major and you owe Sallie Mae.
Pitchfork: I hear what you're saying about being real and true. But look at Rick Ross, here's a guy who's been exposed as not being entirely truthful with his rhymes. Do you think that makes what he does less valuable automatically?
Wale: I can't judge whether a dude is telling the truth or not. But I can't lie-- I wouldn't be able to look myself in the mirror.