is a new feature here at ATG where we point the spotlight on up-and-coming musicians in the DMV (DC/MD/VA) area.
If you reside in the DMV (District, Maryland, Virginia) area, you have to have been living under a rock for the past two years not to have been swept up in the hype that surrounds D.C.-based hip hop newcomer Wale. Bursting onto the scene in early 2006 with “W.A.L.E.D.A.N.C.E.”, his flawless remix of the Justice classic, Wale has been wowing audiences with an undeniably unique flow and an uncanny ability to reference pop culture without sounding like US Weekly set to music. The 24-year-old has become the shining beacon of hope for the D.C. music scene, a city that hasn’t seen itself under the spotlight musically since Bill Clinton jammed on his sax back in the nineties. After signing to Mark Ronson’s Allido Records, Wale has released multiple mixtapes, building a fervent fan base before releasing a single LP (don’t worry though, Attention:Deficit drops sometime this Summer) and has been featured on tracks by Ronson and The Roots. Wale has gained most of his fame for his remixes of Lily Allen (”Smile”), M.I.A. (”Boyz”), and the aforementioned Justice jam.
Wale represents a new wave of hip hop artists; ones who are so connected to the popular culture that they are able to use every available media outlet to get their name out, all while not sacrificing their truly unique sounds. While I am aware that my D.C. bias is overwhelming, I speak objectively when I say that Wale is rap’s next big thing, and that his ability to connect with audiences, as evidenced by his flawless performance last night, will come in handy when his album finally drops.
After standing in the rain for an extended period of time, I finally collected my ticket to see Wale, along with D.C. mainstays Tabi Bonney and UCB. Tabi was his usual self; an energetic warm-up that gets the audience ready for the main event. The moment Wale came out, the hometown crowd greeted him with cheers louder than you would hear at a Nationals game (which isn’t saying much…ok terrible analogy). After giving respect to D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, Wale began to call out specific high schools in the area, giving mention even to my girlfriend’s high school, yet neglecting mine (something she’ll never let me forget). From the first minute it became apparent; this crowd is Wale’s audience. The 9:30 Club was packed wall-to-wall with a diverse crowd rocking Nats hats, Wale Ovechkin jerseys, and fresh printed tees, while Wale strutted out, backed by what seemed like the 40-man outfit UCB. The legendary Uncalled 4 Band is a perfectly example of Wale’s desire to be deeply rooted in D.C. culture.
Go-go music is an energetic, big-band style of music perfected in the late 70s by Chuck Brown, and is D.C. in every way. While Philly-based The Roots are heavily influenced by the percussion and live horns, no band captures the mood of the District more than UCB, so it’s perfectly fitting that the kings of go-go help Wale out on tracks like “Back in the Go-Go” and “Dig Dug”, an homage to early D.C. go-go artists (and coincidentally, the first single Wale ever released).
Wale, UCB, the crowd, and the performance were all electric, and you could sense that Wale was in his element. From “Ice Cream Girl” to “One Thing About a Playa’”, Wale had the crowd wrapped around his finger and singing along to every last verse. The atmosphere was perfect for a unique hip hop performance, one that relies less on tape-recorded beats and commercial lyricism and way more on call-and-response and connecting with the performers. In between songs, Wale was twittering on stage, asking those in the crowd to twit him back about what they wanted to hear next. The crowd responded overwhelmingly, and Wale finished up his set with spirited performances of his two biggest singles, “Chillin’” and “Nike Boots”. By the end of the show, the crowd couldn’t decide if they wanted more or if they were too physically and mentally exhausted to go on.
Wale’s rise to fame is undeniable, and represents a growing trend in the hip hop industry of artists promoting mixtapes heavily through outlets like Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, and the like to build a strong reputation, earning them cameos on established artists’ albums (see: Wale on The Roots’ “Rising Down”). I’m aware that it is totally cliche to say that you must see an artist live before you truly appreciate them but…..you must see Wale live before you truly appreciate him. The energy, candidness, and exuberance he brings on stage with him is refreshing, and is a sign of good things to come for the young man from my beloved home town.
Check out his latest, “Hot Shyt” which features verses from Peedi Crakk, Young Chris, Black Thought, and the man himself batting cleanup. While you’re at it, re-listen to “Back in the Go-Go”, which Wale dropped on the audience. You could hear the entire crowd shout “Do it for the Capital, Wale Ovechkin.”