Congratulations on signing with Interscope. What was it about Interscope that made you want to sign there?
Interscope is like a family. I pretty much knew I was going to go to Interscope once Jay stepped down from Def Jam. We just had to make sure the money was right and everything else that goes with the record deal. Interscope is going to be hands-off with myself and Mark (Ronson) without trying to contort anything and without trying to change anything else around.
How long had this deal been in the works for?
In my opinion, it always had three conceptions. I had talked to every label. I had met with Diddy twice. I met Jay at social events and we were talking. I was in London when I first got the call that Interscope wanted to meet and I had been meeting with them for three months. When I met with them, they really got it. Def Jam also had the family environment and the security guy was cool. Interscope kind of had that same vibe. It’s really been in the works, I want to say, since the summer but at that time, I was still “Def Jam, Def Jam, Def Jam.” Everybody at Def Jam was cool. I love those dudes and the publicists. I really like those dudes like Jay Brown and Sav. All of those dudes are my friends. I was really like, ‘Def Jam, Def Jam, Def Jam.’ But once Jay stepped down, I kind of was like, ‘Man, I don’t know. I feel like everybody is leaving that place.’ I felt like Interscope was a good look. I’ve always loved the Interscope structure.
Even though you didn’t sign with Jay-Z, what did it mean to you that he was feeling you enough to want to sign you?
That was like a defining moment. You kind of look at things differently. You look at it like this is a guy that I’ve listened to my whole life and he’s telling me that I’m good and that I’m hot. Nothing else can further validate you. Nothing could do that. I’m with people like Black Thought and Jay-Z and they’re telling me they like my stuff. It’s like an incredible feeling but you also know that you have so much more to go to be mentioned in the same breath as Tarik or Mr. Carter.
How are you going to make sure you don’t get caught up in the system at Interscope?
We have a good infrastructure. And Jimmy Iovine knows good music. Those guys know what they’re getting into and I have a whole city anticipating my record.
How are you approaching the album now that you have a home for it?
The same as ever. It’s the same as I always have. I’m just going to the studio and working. It ain’t really that complicated. It’s never that complicated. Go in the studio and let your heart do the rest.
Will the album still come out in 2008?
I would hope so. I think so because a lot of the material is pretty much done. The concepts are done. I’m just going to keep working and continue to stay relevant. The 9th Wonder mixtape is coming after The Mixtape About Nothing. I’m going to continue to do what I do to continue to stay relevant. We are expecting to release the album in ’08.
We’ve always talked about your feedback on HipHopGame. You even addressed it in your “HipHopGame Freestyle”, as you said, “Somebody will 1 star me like an Astro hat.” Are you happy with the feedback from the tracks we posted?
You always want a 5, but with anonymous hatred, it’s impossible. You could have a track with Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and God on that track and people would say they don’t like it because they’re riding with 50 Cent or they’re a Flo Rida fan. I’m not comparing myself to the people I mentioned, but there’s always going to be that hate. I feel like a 3 ½ or a 4 is pretty good by HipHopGame standards. Wouldn’t you agree?
Definitely. There’s always one person that wants to leave the 1 star.
Yeah. It’s an inevitable thing, like the way people are so anxious to put “First” so they can be like, ‘Yeah, first, haha.’ It’s like a little college stoner just sitting around the computer saying, “I wonder what it’s going to look like if I add 1 star. Haha.” It’s all cool. Somebody will 1 star me like an Astro hat.
But there’s probably people who genuinely don’t like my music. They compare me to other people all the time. I call everybody who will listen to me and I ask them why they would compare them to me. I don’t model myself to anybody. When there’s something unfamiliar, they have to latch onto the closest thing to it to compare it to something. They like to say this is a version of that or that is a version of that. Today, no matter what you do, there’s nothing that you can do right now to not be compared to somebody. I don’t care who you are, but it’s always something. It’s either a gangsta version of that or an intelligent version of that. It’s always going to be like that because of the information age. Everybody has a voice right now because of the internet.
Since you signed with Interscope, has the hate for you gone down?
We got ignorant people everywhere. People are going to hate on everything. People complain about Wayne, Kanye and Jay-Z. It could be a great record, like that “Milli” record that Wayne did with Cory Gunz. How are you going to say that that’s not dope? How? I don’t love everything that Wayne does, but that’s hot. And the people just want to be the opposer and that’s their job and that’s what they thrive on doing. They want to be the opposition. You could be sitting around talking about who’s better, Jay-Z or Nas, and one person, regardless of if they have an opinion or not, they’ll just say the opposite just to be the opposer. It could be about the Redskins and they’ll be like, ‘I like the fucking Rams.’ Anything that’s opinion-based is going to have opposers and even when it’s opinion-based, they’ll try to make it fact-based and still be an opposer.
In the “HipHopGame Freestyle” you also mentioned how you write your rhymes, something a lot of artists don’t brag about. Why do you think so many artists brag about not writing their rhymes?
Put it this way – people write. They write it in their own kind of way. I don’t want to be like, ‘I didn’t write it. I don’t write shit.’ That doesn’t make it hot. People don’t know when they’re listening. I could just be like, ‘I didn’t write that shit’ and it don’t make it no hotter. It’s like saying you scored 30 points with your left hand. You scored 30. So what are you saying? When you look in the box score the next day, it’s going to say 30 points. That’s a hell of an analogy, man.
Have you been holding onto that one?
Nah, it just comes to me. (laughs)
How do you put your rhymes together?
I like that question. Basically I just write, man. Sometimes I’m in the zone, sometimes I’m not in the zone. Sometimes I wake up. My girlfriend sleeps ‘til 5 in the afternoon, so I just wake up and I’ll be writing. Sometimes I’ll just be in that zone where I really want to go in. I was really, really high when I did the HipHopGame joint. (laughs) That’s why there’s 30 different hooks in that joint. Yeah, I was high when I wrote that joint. I was dumb high. I was high when I wrote half of it, then I recited it and one-taked it and I was gone.
Usually when I write, I write on my Sidekick a lot and get in the zone. I delete and erase so much stuff. I just stopped using paper because it got too messy. I just delete it and I go in like that.
“Rain, Sleet, Snow” was written as a tribute to Air Force Ones. What’s your collection like?
I have about 300 of them. That was supposed to be on the Nike mixtape but I guess something happened and it didn’t come out, so we wanted to give it to our good friends at HHG. I’m a sneaker enthusiast. I collect them but I wear them. A lot of heads collect them, but I collect them and I wear them. There’s only a couple of shoes that I don’t have that I want, like the Paris Dunks and the Heinekens. I’m lazy though. I could get the Heinekens but I’m just lazy. The game ain’t what it used to be. The game ain’t what it used to be in 2000, 2001. The game was good then. Now everything is watered down.
What’s your favorite pair of shoes in your collection?
I got my foot up on the woodgrain in the car and I’m looking at my sneakers now and the colors of my shoes look so good with the car. It’s the Atmos Air Max ‘90s. I love the Jordan 3’s .I wear my Jordan 4’s so much. I wore them on the cover of Urb. The 11’s. The Penny 2’s. The Nike boots.
You also mentioned in “Rain, Sleet, Snow” that you want your own pair of Air Forces by the time they reach their 50th anniversary. What do you have to do to earn that?
They’re going to have to hold me down. I would rather have a phone product though. I’m a phone fanatic. I would love to have the NikeTalk website give me feedback. I want to be able to design the joint. Those are my people. I love to go on NikeTalk. It’s just like HipHopGame. I go there and some things are positive and some things are negative but people keep it real.
“Conclusion” is off your upcoming mixtape and you address the beef that often exists between artists and critics. It seems like you’re trying to rise above that.
It’s like Jay says, real niggas respect it and fake niggas don’t. Bloggers know that Kanye may check for them and that they may have a spot in his mind. It bothers everyone to see negative shit about themselves. Now everyone wants to have a voice and it’s the day of the tougher artist with thicker skin. You could get love in all the magazines and still get ripped on sites.
At the end of “Conclusion”, you said, “They say hip-hop is dead but I believe it’s just the fans.” Are the fans not taking enough responsibility for the problems that have been developing in hip-hop for the last few years?
Fans used to be like, ‘Yo, I’m fucking with him!’ Now it’s so microwaved because everyone raps and produces. I don’t know what it is, if it’s the recession or whatever, but if I’m rapping, I’m not going to big you up. I’m going to put you down to pull myself up. That’s the mentality. Everybody raps now and everybody makes beats, so everybody’s competition.
You pushed The Mixtape About Nothing back until May. Why did you do that?
It’s so weird that the mixtape got pushed back, right? It’s a combination of things. I have a schedule that just popped up out of nowhere and that kind of slowed me down. But we want to do something interesting for the people to go along with the mixtape, so we’re going to do some things. We’re going to do some creative things to go with the mixtape because I’m all about doing interesting things with your projects. I’m not going to do The Mixtape About Nothing and that’s it. I’ve done mixtapes. This is nothing different. I want to show appreciation to the people who support me. I want to show support to the people of D.C., Maryland and Virginia. You’re going to get something from me. I genuinely care and I feel like everybody contributed to my success thus far.
Are you going to leak more tracks off The Mixtape About Nothing before it drops?
I leaked one joint and I’m probably going to leak one more. People always ask me why I don’t release too many songs on the internet. I want to give you the joint all the way through. That’s just my way of thinking. Now I want to do something to replace “Conclusion” on the mixtape because you already heard that. There’s going to be 12 records that nobody’s heard that go on the mixtape.
You also got Julia Louis-Dreyfuss to do a skit for the mixtape. How did that come out?
I didn’t even hear it yet. I don’t want to hear it until it gets mixed down. You would be surprised who listens to my music. Government squares listen to my music. It could be a mother and a son. The son likes “Ice Cream” and the mom likes “Ride” or the “Daytona Squared” joint or “Breakdown”. The net is so wide now and I’m just blessed to have all of these people from all these walks of life who say, “I’m down. I’m in there for you, Wale.”
You’re also working on the mixtape with 9th Wonder. How’s that coming?
Man, I love that dude. He sent me 40 beats the other day and it was like going on a shopping spree. He’s a very talented dude. He produced Erykah Badu’s “Honey” joint. He’s a very talented dude and we’re definitely going to do some stuff for the album. We talked the other day. He’s got a crew out of D.C. that he’s been dealing with. They’re the Toons and they’re dope. They’re real dope. 9th is just a real good dude. I love that dude.
Your song with The Roots, “Rising Up”, leaked last week. Are you going to do more work with Black Thought?
I have a thought for the album like a cipher with him. It’s a basic beat with the loop and the guitar and I want to go back and forth with him. I think people enjoy his “75 Bars” and “Work” and “Web”. Those are songs that make you fall in love with his flow. Definitely look for that. And ?uestlove is rumored to be cooking up something for me.
I’m just happy that people are talking about me. It’s a blessing. All these brands be messing with me and I’m starting to get a fanbase in the regions that weren’t trying to understand me earlier. I’m starting to get a lot of love in other regions and they were kind of more stubborn at one point. It’s great, man. And to be doing this for D.C., Maryland and Virginia, it’s just wonderful. People say that I’m the king or the best out here. I ain’t saying I’m the best. I’m just saying that I’m blessed. I let the people decide on that, on who’s the best and who’s the greatest. I let the music speak for me and you can use that to come up with your opinion.
What’s your focus going to be for the next month?
I feel like even though I get a lot of flack for not helping people in D.C…I don’t know where that comes from. I can’t do a feature for everybody in the world, but I want to get people more exposure, like Kingpin Slim, The Circle Boyz and South East Slim. I grew up on Circle Boyz. They’re a group out of the Northeast. His name is Wali and my name is Wale. I grew up on that and he’s a mentor to me and I still look at him like a Jay. When I listen to Jay talk, I look at him the same way. I feel like God put me in this position to help other people. I want to help Kingpin Slim and Racks and The Circle Boyz all get situations. I want to help all of that. I want to get those dudes on HipHopGame. That’s probably one of the most important thing to me next to getting my album out. Atlanta is doing the same thing and aside from putting my album out, I feel like that’s the most important thing – to give the guys that I was coming up with a chance to come up as well. Some people think I overextend myself in that sense too. At the Nike party, I brought my people to open up for me and they went a little long and I got chewed out a little bit and I got flack from management that I don’t need to be doing that and that I needed to stick to the script. That’s just my passion for getting people on. I know I wouldn’t sound great doing a joint with the hardcore, gangsta rapper, but I can help and get their records to the A&R and get them some meetings.
Do artists expect too much from you because you have a major deal now?
Definitely. People are like, ‘Wale, how can I get known?’ First of all, that’s not proper English! (laughs) Second off, you do house parties, shows and mixtapes. People know me from when I would give the mixtapes for free and then when the song got on the radio, I would sell the mixtapes to get back in the studio and I would give my mixtapes to the DJ. They know I used to be a hype man in clubs. Every gogo band knows me. I’ve done it all. That’s how you “get known.” People say, “Wale, I’m trying to get a record deal.” What can I do for you? I can’t pay you. I can’t call Jimmy Iovine like, ‘Yo, man, I’m trying to get my man on.’ Everything is a process, man. It’s just about getting hot first.
Do you find that the same guys who didn’t want to grind with you back then now want to come back and work with you?
I got friends that I went to school with. I played football and ran track and they were doing other things and it wasn’t important to them, but now the vision is right in front of their face and it gets kind of personal. People take it personal when I can’t do stuff. I can’t do nothing. What do you want me to do? Let’s do a song. I’ve done millions of songs with people that have never been on the radio, ever. What do you want me to do? It’s about hard work and dedication. This is things that I put in and this is a blessing from God. You get what you put in and that’s basically what I have done. And there are people who haven’t put in anything and they want to get what I got. I got a joint called “Star” and that’s basically talking about the same thing that we’re talking about right now. I don’t think that anybody should be concerned with what another person is eating.