Wale looks ahead with ‘The Gifted’

Wale, whose new album debuted at No. 1.
Photo by Alex Kirzhner

Rapper Wale has never made a secret of his desire to have each of his albums outsell the others and attain major popularity. He named his second album Ambition, after all.

And on his recently released third CD, The Gifted, he touches on the subject on the more-or-less title song, “The Curse Of The Gifted,” saying, “Success is like a never-ending battle” and “to top all of my last shit is all that I ask of.”

“That’s my biggest, like my spiel, is doing better than my last album,” Wale says. “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 (pronounced wah-lay), debuting at No. 1 on Billboard magazine’s album chart upon its release in late June. As Wale sees things, it’s 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, 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. 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.

Wale continued to crank out mixtapes — three critically acclaimed ones — 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. Interscope wasn’t satisfied 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 alright,” 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 Mayback 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 vocal contributions from Yo Gotti and LyfeJennings) 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. “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 CeeLo 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, sees this as a compatible tour package.

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

Wale opens for J. Cole at the 1stBank Center on Tuesday, Oct. 22. Show starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $39.50. 11450 Broomfield Lane, Broomfield, 303-410-0700.

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