Wale’s confidence was never shaken. After going through trials and tribulations that would have doomed the careers of lesser MCs, the Maybach Music Group rapper is prepping to drop his highly anticipated sophomore album, Ambition, on November 1. Proudly wearing his Washington, DC badge on his sleeve, along with his penchant for witty wordplay and crafty songwriting, the 26 year-old is motivated to assert himself as one of Hip-Hop’s elite artists.
“Ambition, it’s a huge word,” says Wale of his new album’s title. “The day after my album dropped, Attention Deficit, is the day I decided to make a change and give my all. I didn’t really know enough about the game to give my all. My football coach said if you’re going to be wrong, at least be wrong at full speed. Before I was kind of careful…now I just give it my all, whatever is in my heart.”
Too often Wale’s passion, and hears, has led him to be dismissed as arrogant or egotistical. But the DC native's upbringing in a hardworking Nigerian household makes these assertions shortsighted at best. Mistaking his confidence for conceitedness is even more troubling when considering a resume that includes earning a football scholarship to Robert Morris University, and maybe more importantly, making a name for himself in the notoriously fickle DC/mid Atlantic Hip-Hop scene. which all happened via hard work, first and foremost. “I’m a narrator—I don’t want to say poet, it sounds pretentious,” explains Wale, whose acclaimed mixtapes like 100 Miles & Runnin’ and The Mixtape About Nothing made him a star in DC’s Hip-Hop scene and beyond. “I spent half my life in the inner city, half my life in the suburbs, raised by two parents who was never really home cause they was always working. I’m 6 years old, 7 years old, we’re getting robbed by crackheads. My parents bust they ass to get us to what we thought was a better place, but we lived in the projects of the suburbs.” Wale got a taste of living the non-stop artist life when he formally connected with acclaimed producer Mark Ronson, signing to his then fledgling Allido label in 2007.
After touring overseas and domestically with Ronson, and dropping more acclaimed music like The Mixtape About Nothing, Wale prepped the release of his debut, Attention Deficit. But despite early positive reviews for the project—as well nabbing a Lady Gaga appearance on the album’s lead single “Chillin”—an under shipping snafu led to first week sales that failed to correlate with Wale's talents. The circumstance led to a career wake up call. “The light clicked in my head the week after my first album dropped,” says Wale. “I became a full grown adult that day. Me and my manager, we regrouped, thought about everything that happened and I had to check myself in a major way. That’s where the ambition started. I asked myself why don’t I put the same energy into my music than I would on 3rd and 1 when I’m playing ball.”
Sporting influences that refuse to didn’t fit to a particular lane—names like Black Thought (The Roots) and Jay-Z are amongst his favorite rappers, as well as Fiend of No Limit—and listens to his early mixtapes revealed Wale’s versatility and affinity for rocking over Southern Hip-Hop beats. Nevertheless, many were surprised when he effectively stole the show on Waka Flocka Flame’s “No Hands.” The chart topping party anthem introduced Wale to a whole new audience. However, the time came to leave the Interscope Records fold. “I don’t think they was willing to match my passion,” offers Wale, while assuring that he has no animosity towards label. A number of major labels showed interest in Wale’s services, but at the top of 2011, he announced that he was aligning with Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group via Warner Bros. Wale is aware how the power move could be misconstrued by some but relishes in it. “I feel like I got to fight twice as hard,” he says. “The fact that I’m signed with Ross, they’re making their judgment off that.
He’s signed to a trap rapper so I’m going to listen with a different ear. I got signed because of the artist I am. Now I’m just allowed to accentuate the person that I’ve always been, and the muzzle has come off, so to speak.” Wale unleashed his bars on MMG’s critically acclaimed Self Made, Vol. 1 compilation album. Wale’s performance on the album was hailed, particularly on tracks including “600 Benz,” “That Way” and “Pandemonium.” In July, “That Way” was the #1 Most Added Song at Urban Mainstream radio thanks to Wale lyrically waxing philosophical over a lush, Curtis Mayfield sampling Lex Luger production. “I’m loyal and I support all the other acts,” says Wale of his MMG home. “The difference now is it’s more hands on. I’m nothing like either artists, but I’m more like Rozay than I am Mark [Ronson]. We relate to each other and he really supports my business endeavors,” says Wale, who has deals with a pair of clothing labels and an endorsement with a liquor company in the works. Having moved to Atlanta to record the album, Wale’s focus is clearly Ambition. “I gotta stick with the core Wale fans. I appreciate everybody coming to support but for people to hit me on Twitter like, ‘I miss the old Wale,’ did you hear my first mixtape [Paint a Picture]? I was rapping on T.I., Ying Yang Twins and Scarface and go-go.”
Ambition has music that will draw in both old and new Wale fans alike, without compromising his art. Fans already got a teaser of Wale’s musical moves with “That Way,” which features R&B singer Jeremih and Rick Ross. The DC rapper recently let loose a mixtape called The Eleven One Eleven Theory that literally crashed file distributor Hulkshare thanks to over a hundred thousand download requests within an hour of its release. One track on the mixtape, the infectious “Chain Music” will be making its way onto Ambition. Other standout tracks on the triumphant new album include “Slight Work” which features a futuristic soundscape provided by Diplo (Major Lazer, Beyonce) and the soulful, Tone P produced “Don’t Hold Your Applause. ” “I’m tired of making money, I’m on to making history,” spits Wale on the Tone P produced “Don’t Hold Your Applause.”
Another highlight for longtime followers is sure to be “Focused,” where Wale reunites with his old running partner Kid Cudi. Finally making the music completely on his own terms, and rolling with the Bawse Rick Ross, Wale is ready to guide listeners into his world, one aspiring bar and thumping groove at a time. “My ambition is too much to be in a box. Some people just get in a box, set up their furniture in that bitch and live there,” he says. “Whatever emotion I feel in a given moment, I want to accentuate that to the furthest degree in my music.”