I’m pretty good, man. I’m grinding.
From getting out on the road to endorsements, it’s clear to see that you’ve put a lot of work in already. How’s your progress been lately?
The progress has been amazing, but I’ve learned to never be satisfied. I try to top my previous projects all the time. My management and my friends don’t know exactly why I’m stressed. It’s because I’m never satisfied.
D.C. is not known for hip-hop on a national level. What challenges do you face coming from D.C?
It’s a challenge because we’re not really well-received at first. We have to overcome that. They say if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere, but I believe this city is tough. They’ll chastise you for anything. You’re either not street enough, too street, not different enough or your flow sounds like this person or that person. Or the people will just be listening to other stuff. That’s a struggle within itself trying to come up in D.C. And then after that, you have the struggle on a national level.
Is it better to leave D.C. and then come back once you have a name?
A lot of people have tried that, but my success has not been forced. I get more radio play than other artists from here, but it’s still less than national acts.
How hard is it to get the support of DJs in D.C?
One of my managers and one of my best friends is one of the biggest DJs in D.C., DJ Alize. He’s helped me a lot and a lot of DJs that met me, the relationship came organically. Some DJs play the music, some DJs don’t. It’s about the quality and integrity behind the music. I’m not trying to be something I’m not and the DJs respect that. A lot of DJs saw me when I was standing outside passing out CDs and now I’m selling out shows.
It seems as though you have a strong team behind you. How important is that?
That’s the X-factor behind Wale. That’s why I say “we” and not “me.” I feel that I’m just the voice of my team. We’re all Wale. I have a lot of disciples in D.C. and people who spread the word for me. My success is definitely due to them. It’s a “we” thing with my whole camp. Their opinions mean so much to me because I’m not with a big label or with an executive producer who’s done incredible work already. My team is essential to my success.
It’s also about gaining the respect of national acts, because 90% of rappers that leave D.C. leave respecting my music and my movement. The other day I got the opportunity to meet Red Café and Fabolous and I jumped on stage and they saw the reaction. They get it now. So when I do sign my major deal, they’ll have seen it. Swizz Beatz also knows what it is. Young Guru, the Clipse and Fat Joe know what it is. I had the opportunity to meet them and they were able to see what I’m doing. That’s really priceless because I’m a lot younger than those dudes. I’m only 22. Just to be able to interact with people that I look up to and people that influence my music, it’s very humbling. I’m more of a “local celebrity.” Just for them to see me and for them to know what it is out here, that’s a great thing.
It’s hard to clearly define your style other than to say you’re diverse. How would you define your style?
I love it. Everybody has their own style and I feel like my style is just me. It’s an embodiment of me. My style is coming from a narrator’s perspective. I’ve been bad and I’ve been locked up three or four times, but I’ve never been Nino Brown or John Gotti. I’m not those guys. I’m more like the guy that understands their plight. I’ve been around D.C. so much and there’s a lot of murder. They get it in in the suburbs too. I have a lot of friends that are locked up too. I understand their plight because I’ve been around them. More or less, I was always that guy with the knucklehead friends and I had the extra conscience, like, ‘This isn’t right.’ I just don’t want to give off the stereotypical connotations of black people. If I want to make a lasting impact, I can’t conform to what’s going on right now.
My visual style and what I wear, there’s a whole subculture of streetwear people and I’m a part of that. Lupe and Kanye understand that. There’s shoe fanatics out there and I’m basically a part of that. I rep for the people who understand that and even if you don’t, you’ll still understand it when you hear me talk about it.
D.C. has a huge go-go scene and you’ve already fused elements of go-go music into your brand of hip-hop. How important is that?
It’s my niche. If they want to label me as that, that’s fine. This is my aspect of the party. Every rapper has their club-party single type of record. When I say I’m giving you the party record, it’s going to be more go-go influenced. I’ve been to more go-go’s than regular clubs in my life. It’s more extreme and the girls are doing more provocative things and it’s more extreme. I want to give you my interpretation of the party. You can Google me and see there’s more to me. I have a lot of different topics and that’s just one element of it. I’m not giving the fans more go-go than they can understand. I’m giving it to you in a hip-hop structure rather than all-out band work.
What do the go-go bands think of your songs influenced by go-go?
I’ve been getting a lot of love. A lot of the bands I look up to, I’m way younger than. Go-go is definitely taking another turn now and they don’t use congas as much. It’s more high impact. It’s more for the 16, 17, 18 year-old crowd. I used a go-go sample on “Ice Cream.” Some people say go-go is dying. But to answer your question, I’ve gotten a lot of love. Big G from the Backyard Band is like a mentor for me. They’re an uptown-based band. I’ve also gotten love from the Huckabucks, Northeast Groovers, Uncalled for Band and TCB. Rare Essence reaches out to me as well. All the bands in the city really show me love. There’s a go-go coalition that supports the whole go-go movement and I’m actually a part of that. It’s all love in the go-go community.
How do you think fans nationwide will respond to your fusing go-go and hip-hop together?
It’s all about the visual. I feel like with the right production, anything is understandable. They’ve already been introduced to it with “Moneymaker” and all the Amerie records. Rich Harrison has done a great job of introducing our sound to the whole world. The visual is everything at this point. A lot of people probably wouldn’t like certain records if the video didn’t get them. That’s not to say that I’m banking on the video, but the way that you present it is everything. You have to have the visual and the quality of the music is important. I’ve gotten a lot of love from the people on “Ice Cream.” Jae Millz blessed me with a verse for that and we’re working on Red Café, Fabolous and Fat Joe. I would love to see Pharrell or Swizz do a go-go record. The music industry is ready for things like that.
How’s your Hundred Miles and Runnin’ mixtape coming?
It’s dropping soon. I’m going to put a disclaimer on it. If you’re really not into lyrics, then I really don’t want you to listen to it. If you want to just hear something, this is like a “rewind that” tape. I’m going to start the “Rewind That Movement.” The rewind factor of music has left us. Everything is so black and white. Come on. We, as artists, need to be more creative. The MCing aspect of it is gone. They’re not even putting on shows anymore. I want to reignite the “Rewind That Movement.” Lupe is definitely a “Rewind That” guy. Jay has always been that. And I just want to continue that. This mixtape is going to embody that. I’m also doing a Best Of Wale which is going to be a double-CD. I’m going to release that over the summer and the album will be dropping in late October or early November.
Are you looking for a label right now?
We’re just looking for the best possible situation. Right now we have a crazy following. This is organic. It’s on the MySpace and from being out there in the clubs, doing shows in Philly and South Carolina and New York and doing homecomings and being in the Source. This is all things my team has done with me. No one can get rich in this business by being a conformist. The industry is doing the exact opposite now and they’re disappointed when it sells 1/8 of what the other guy sold. Why? Because it’s nothing fresh from what the other guy’s doing. Then you have someone who’s performing his ass off and he’s appealing to national crowds…The situation has to be right. We know what I’m worth and the world should know by now what I’m worth.
How do you want your debut album to sound?
I just want you to realize that I’m one of the best rappers around. Whether it be a go-go song or whatever, I want you to realize that. You can’t judge a rapper by his single because it’s geared to crossover. On this album, I’m going to give them a single that represents my area with the go-go scene, but it’s going to be 98% hip-hop. I’m not saying I can bring hip-hop back, but I just want to make everyone rewind that shit.
What do you want to say to everybody?
I appreciate the love. HipHopGame is one of the most influential joints out there. I remember when I started checking HipHopGame twice a day. I read the comments and I know what’s going on with everybody. I follow y’all and I feel very honored to be on here. This is a milestone. I appreciate the love and if you don’t like the go-go records, that’s understandable because there’s no visual, but listen to the lyrics and keep your finger on the rewind button.