Rapper Wale has never made a secret of his desire to have each of his albums outsell the other and attain major popularity. He named his second album Ambition, after all.
“That’s my biggest, like my spiel, is doing better than my last album,” Wale said in an early-September phone interview. “I guess that’s what success is, doing better than the previous, or equally as well as the previous album.”
His recently released third CD, The Gifted, certainly took a step in that direction for Wale (pronounced wah-lay), debuting at No. 1 on Billboard magazine’s album chart upon its release in late June. Wale was pleased with that accomplishment – to a point.
“It’s a great feeling,” he said. “I got my eye set on greater pastures, but it’s definitely an incredible feeling to see your name on the chart as No. 1.”
Wale is promoting The Gifted by opening for J. Cole on a fall tour. They stop at Augusta’s Bell Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 15. Tickets are $39.50, $49.50 and $59.50 at the James Brown Arena box office, online at georgialinatix.com or by calling 877-4AUGTIX.
Wale, who will have a new stage set for the tour and will be backed by a live band, sees this as a compatible tour package.
“We’ve been friends for a long time, good friends for a really long time,” Wale said of Cole. “We share the same like theories and philosophies on making music and interacting with our fans.”
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 said. “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, 28, 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.
In fall 2006, he followed 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.
Wale continued to crank out mixtapes – three of them – before the November 2009 release of his first album, Attention Deficit. The album, though, became one of the few setbacks Wale has experienced. It made a disappointing debut at No. 21 on the Billboard album chart with sales of 28,000 copies. Wale’s manager, Daniel Weisman blamed the subpar performance on Interscope, saying the label didn’t ship enough copies. But Interscope wasn’t satisfied with the sales for Attention Deficit 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 said. “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 with an extensive multi-tiered marketing campaign launched ahead of the album’s November 2011 release, it debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard album chart with first-week sales of 162,000 copies. Wale’s career was officially back on track.
This brings things to The Gifted. For this album, 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. Bricks (which features vocals from Yo Gotti and Lyfe Jennings) backs its dark, topical lyrics with silky strings and horns.
Meanwhile, Wale also weaves a good deal of soul throughout the album’s 15 tracks. Gullible comes with a melodic vocal segment from CeeLo Green, and Heaven’s Afternoon is a raw rap tune that is brightened by a background string melody.