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Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013

Wale Vies to One Up Himself

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Rapper Wale has never made a secret of his desire to have each of his albums outsell the last. He titled his second album Ambition after all. On his latest album, The Gifted, he touches on the subject again, rapping on “The Curse of the Gifted” that “success is like a never-ending battle” and that “to top all my last shit, it’s all that I ask of.”

“That’s my biggest, like my spiel, is doing better than my last album,” Wale explains. “I guess that’s what success is, doing better than the previous, or equally as well as the previous album.”

The Gifted certainly took a step in that direction for Wale, debuting at number one on Billboard upon its release in late June. Wale was pleased with that accomplishment—mostly, at least.

“It’s a great feeling,” he says. “I got my eye set on greater pastures, but it’s definitely an incredible feeling to see your name on the chart as number one.”

As Wale sees things, it’s just part of his nature to always want to outdo himself, and that doesn’t stop with album sales and commercial success. He wants to improve musically with each album as well.

“There’s a bit of competitiveness in me that makes me always want to challenge myself and do better than my last one,” he says. “That’s the ultimate driving force.”

So far, Wale has done a good job of achieving that overriding goal, as his career has, for the most part, been on a steady upswing.

Based out of Washington, D.C., Olubowale Victor Akintimehin (aka Wale) made waves initially on the vibrant local scene in 2006 with a single, “Dig Dug (Shake It).” It became the most requested song by a local artist in Washington, D.C., radio history and was featured on Wale’s first mixtape, Paint a Picture. He followed up that song in fall 2006 with another single, Uptown Roamers, which got airplay on XM Radio and was included on Wale’s second mixtape, Hate Is The New Love.

By then, Wale had been discovered by super-producer Mark Ronson (known for his work with the late Amy Winehouse and Christina Aguilera, among others), and in 2008 this alliance paid off with a joint record deal with Ronson’s Allido Records and major label Interscope Records. His Ronson-helmed debut album Attention Deficit, however, tanked after a disappointing debut at number 21 on the “Billboard” album chart with sales of 28,000 copies. Wale’s manager blamed the subpar performance on Interscope, saying the label didn’t ship enough copies, but Interscope wasn’t satisfied with the sales and dropped Wale from its roster.

Wale took what for many artists might seem like a catastrophic setback in stride.

“I knew everything was going to be good. I knew I was going to be all right,” he says. “I mean, I worked hard. I always had a fan base and D.C. was always behind me, so I never was worried about that at all. I was mad that it happened, but I didn’t think my career was in shambles or anything like that.”

Indeed, Wale plowed forward, landing a new record deal with Maybach Music Group, the label owned by superstar rapper Rick Ross.

He went to work on Ambition and, bolstered by an extensive multi-tiered marketing campaign launched ahead of the album’s November 2011 release, it debuted at number two on Billboard with first-week sales of 162,000 copies. Wale’s career was officially back on track.

For The Gifted, Wale wanted to show both his musical range and also have more of a focused, soul-infused sound. For the most part, Wale achieved those goals, as he adds a variety of musical flavors to the rap sound that anchors most of the songs. “The Curse of the Gifted,” for instance, is a fairly stark rap tune but is sprinkled with a few touches of jazz along the way. “Golden Salvation (Jesus Piece)” mixes big-beat rap and a healthy dose of gospel.

Wale also weaves a good deal of soul throughout the album’s 15 tracks. “Sunshine” is highlighted by soulful backing vocals that bring a strong, melodic dimension to this hip-hop tune. “Gullible” comes with a melodic vocal segment from Cee-Lo Green. “Heaven’s Afternoon” is a raw rap tune that is brightened by a background string melody.

Wale is promoting The Gifted by opening for J. Cole on a fall tour that runs through Oct. 30. Wale, who will have a new stage set for the tour and will be backed by a live band, says the two are logical tourmates.

“We’ve been friends for a long time, good friends for a really long time,” Wale says of Cole. “We share the same theories and philosophies on making music and interacting with our fans.”

J. Cole and Wale’s “What Dreams May Come Tour” stops at the Rave on Saturday, Oct. 12, at 8 p.m.