It is Friday November 6th, 2009. I am up quite early preparing for my interview with Wale Folarin aka Wale (Wah-lay) NOT “Whale” whose album “Attention Deficit” drops today November 10th, 2009 in stores nationwide. Yes I heard his hit single “DC Chillin’” featuring Lady Gaga. The lyrics caught my attention partly because most immigrants and children of immigrants understand the task of trying to teach people how to say your name right. What a task it can be! I also liked that he was representing DC, a place where my heart lies. I knew he had the blessings of DJ and producer Mark Ronson and hip-hop mogul Jay-Z. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, I still needed to know if his album was worth the hype.
While Wale had planned to release his album later this year, an album leak on the internet which directly affects his album sales forced him to do so much earlier. In addition, while many have his name on their lips, especially since DC Chillin,’ the challenge, according to media reports, remains his album sales.
Wale was born Olubawale Victor Folarin on September 21, 1984 to Nigerian parents who migrated to the USA (DC) in 1979. Wale’s interest in music began at an early age when his father, who was a cab driver, fielded requests from his customers and then went home and replicated these music requests. As a result, Wale at an early age was exposed to all kinds of assorted music ranging from hip-hop to Afrobeat music. At 11years old, Wale had begun rapping and although he would later, in college, obtain an athletic scholarship, he dropped out of college to pursue his passion for music.
In 2003-2004, Wale’s intense passion for music and “hustle” ultimately got him recognized by a local DJ in the DC/Maryland/Virginia metropolitan. This recognition would later land Wale in the reputable Source Magazine as an artist to watch for. Wale’s unique style and nod to the 80s go-go music would subsequently atrract the attention of DJ and producer Mark Ronson, a name responsible for Christina Aguilera and Amy Winehouse, amony many. The rest as they say is history.
In spite of his impressive history, as I listened to my review copy sent by his label, his lead songs “Triumph,” “Mama told me,” “Mirrors,” “Pretty Girls,” my response was “hmmmm . . . not feeling it, yet.” I was definitely not a fan of the “N word” and other explicit(s) used. But, looking past that to get to the lyrics, these songs really did not offer much depth although the production quality was solid. I thought about Jay-Z’s interview on Oprah and the whole discussion on the “N” word and the generational gap. . . since I am younger than Jay-Z I think, “I guess this is where my “African” side kicks in?” Nevertheless, I kept an open mind and continued listening. As I listened, his album indeed proved to have substance and got stronger, particularly from track five onwards.
At some point, I couldn’t help but appreciate the unique position Wale is in. Wale the son of Nigerian/African immigrants is uniquely positioned to connect two continents, the West and Africa, a very significant fact given the growing and influential spending power of Africans in the diaspora and in the continent, especially Nigerians. Raggaeton and Dancehall have become main staples among music fans worldwide. Wale’s success and his strong claim to Nigeria opens the door for strong collaborations with Nigeria’s already exploding music industry and extremely talented artists and their unique genres.
Time flies and before I know it, it is 11:40am. My phone rings. “Hi Uduak” his PR rep inquires. “Yes,” I answer. Please hold on for Wale. “Sure,” I respond. It is game time.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Wale comes on) Hi Wale how are you?!
Wale: (He sounds optimistic but his anxiety cuts through) Doing pretty good.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: (laughs) The anxiety menh! I can feel your anxiety.
Wale: (laughs) Oh menh!
LADYBRILLEmag.com: I know your album is dropping soon.
Wale: Yeah. I haven’t slept really good in a minute. I pace a lot.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Well I hope this is a relaxing fun conversation for you. . . We are just trying to get to know Wale and what you are about . . . (laughs)
I know a big thing for you is connecting with people, fans. Give us a quick insight into your background? What is Wale about?
Wale: Well like you said, you are spot on. I just want to connect with the fans and the people. I feel like my music does a good job of doing that . . . but it is just unfortunate in this day and age the way music is released so carelessly. . . there is not really a message behind it. . . (bad phone reception . . . he continues) and that is why I decided to become very active on twitter.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Yeah. I did notice you are very active on twitter and you respond directly to your followers and what they say. Aren’t artist not supposed to be that interactive, especially as they go up the ranks?
Wale: Yeah. I mean it is tempting to not be as responsive because it makes you very susceptible to a lot of jabs and cross fire or whatever . . .
Wale: Yeah but you know with radio having an impact on my career, I just want to connect and have the people know what I am doing.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: So, let’s dig in a bit on the background. I was very intrigued . . . I heard your dad was driving a cab when he relocated to the USA.
Wale: (muffled noise and interruption) Hold on. Hold on. “I gotta get outta the cab,” he is shouting to someone. (Comes back on) I’m sorry I was in a cab trying to get out. I am sort of moving very very fast (referring to the fact that he just landed in Los Angeles and will be getting on a tour bus soon to promote his album).
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Oh! You are in a cab right now?
Wale: Yeah. . .
LADYBRILLEmag.com: That is funny! I am asking you about your dad driving cab and you are in one. (laughs)
Wale: Yeah. (laughs)
LADYBRILLEmag.com: (laughs) So you ‘bout to be on the grind if you are not already.
Wale: I am on it right now.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: So, where are you right now?
Wale: I am in LA (Hollywood) right now doing some promotion work with some shows.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: How long you gonna be in LA?
Wale: Till Sunday and then Monday I’ll be on the East Coast promoting the album.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Back to where we left off). What was your dad doing before he began driving a cab?
Wale: He was going to (University of District Columbia) UDC and he met my mom at UDC one thing led to another after years and years of work, cab driving was the easiest thing he could do to get acclamated.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: So when he drove the cab he would come home and play all kinds of songs. Tell us more about that.
Wale: Yeah. Basically I got exposed to a lot of artists at a young age. Six or seven years . . . He played Michael Jackson, Jay Z, LL Cool J, Fela Kuti and all the songs he would play and as I got older, I started to pick out my favorite.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: I was looking at your album title “Attention Deficit” and I felt it really fit you because you want to represent so many (things). Africa, Nigeria, DC, USA, Hip-Hop. . . Isn’t that a lot to take on?
Wale: I mean all those things are part of me. I am all of those things. It is who Wale is. . . (bad reception) that is who I am. I try to do music where people can feel comfortable and can relate.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: [I]t was cool how you showed up at the Nigerian Parade in New York and showed some serious love to help celebrate Nigerian Independence day. That was amazing.
Wale: . . . It was so nice to be among my people. . .
LADYBRILLEmag.com: [Y]ou don’t typically have American born children to immigrants necessarily identify with where their parents are from. Usually they say, “I am American.” What did your parents do differently, that makes you say “I am Nigerian” on such a global platform, even though you have never visited the continent and Nigeria currently has a bad rep. in Western media? Whassup?
Wale: My cousins are Nigerians. My best friends are Nigerians. That is how I grew up. So it is very easy to find that comfort zone and stay comfortable with your people because that is what I knew at one point.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Okay. Got it. Let’s talk about your album. Your album gets sweeter as you go. Actually I was surprised because what you put upfront did not have the depth but as you get into it, you are like, “Wow! Twenty four years old and he can get that deep?”
Wale: (bad reception again . . .) The industry, radio/media is not accepting for artists to put out records with depth. So in order for me to get my songs out there, I have to put songs out there that as not as deep as the music as I would like to put out.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Well, I guess it works. (DC Chillin’) caught our attention enough for us to find out what more you have. Let’s talk about your song “Shades” how did that come about?
Wale: Well I sat with the producer to get the beat and then I went to another room to get what the beat was telling me. . . (another interruption then he comes back on). I think for music, the climate has to change as far as what the media is willing to accept from certain artists. Once we are allowed to put out the kinds of music that we want to put out as artists, you will start hearing more records like that (“Shades”).
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Hmmm . . . got it. That creates a very interesting question on where you want to go with your career. Are you looking at music from an artist or a business perspective because it sounds like your brain is working all kinds of things out with the kinds of lyrics you are putting out. . .
Wale: (Another interruption) Every artists is different in how they do their album. I do not follow. . .
LADYBRILLEMag.com: (Can’t hear him) Wale could you speak into the phone so I can hear you?
Wale: I think it is just the hotel.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Yes. LA has really bad phone reception.
Unfortunately with Wale’s bad LA reception and crazy tour promotion schedule we didn’t get to finish. We both agree to schedule another date so you all can get the whole scoop on the self proclaimed Nigerian American DC/VA/MD based Ambassador.
From listening to the album, my opinion isWale Foalrin is a hype worth believing. He is indeed talented and his “Attention Deficit” album showcases his flexible range from superficial/club hits to songs with depth. It really depends on what you are looking for. Since I am always about songs that make sense, recommended tracks worth listening to are “World Tour,” “Chillin’,” “90210,” “Shades,” “Contemplate,” “Diary,” “Beautiful Bliss,” and “Prescription.” “90210” is about the girl who wants to be famous at all cost and will do whatever it takes to get there, including sell her integrity and soul. “Shades” deals with Wale’s insecurity issues with his dark skin and how he later learnt to love self. In “Contemplate ft. Rihanna,” Wale has an ex-girlfriend contemplating on the purpose of life. “Diary” addresses loving someone who is afraid to let go and love you back because they have been hurt before, “Prescription” has Wale proclaiming “I am hip-hop, past, present and the future.”
If you can’t get past the expletives (explicit content) to get to the “meat and potatoes” of the many tracks listed above, this album is NOT for you.
To listen and purchase Wale’s album visit your local retail stores or stop by Itunes to purchase the whole album or individual tracks.
~Interview by Uduak Oduok
Founded in 2007, Ladybrille® Magazine is a California based pioneer digital publication demystifying the image of Africans in the west through contemporary African fashion and celebrating the brilliant woman in business and leadership, with an emphasis on the African woman in the diaspora. Our coverage includes stories on capital, access to markets, expertise, hiring and retention, sales, marketing, and promotions.