Washington, D.C., MC Wale seems poised to make the leap to mainstream success. He's already built up a wealth of hipster cred, making mixtapes inspired by "Seinfeld" with Fader-approved DJ Nick Catchdubs and playing parties at wine bars packed with the young and the cool. But Wale could have a more complicated journey to mainstream success.
It's not for lack of effort. Last month Wale (born Wale Folarin) performed as part of the house band for the MTV Video Music Awards in New York, and he recently confirmed he will be joining Jay-Z, N*E*R*D and J. Cole for a stateside college tour this fall. In the last few months, he also appeared in an ad for the apparel line LRG and a commercial for Nike, inspired by his own "Nike Boots" song.
Now, Wale will be releasing his debut album, "Attention Deficit," Nov. 3 on Allido/Interscope Records. The album boasts appearances from Lady Gaga, Jazmine Sullivan, Gucci Mane and Bun B and production from Cool and Dre, Green Lantern, Scyence, longtime collaborator D.C.'s Best Kept Secret and mentor/Allido label head Mark Ronson.
So far, however, the major embrace hasn't translated into sales. Wale was best-known and acclaimed for incorporating go-go music, a local style that's little used outside D.C. But none of the singles released have been go-go tracks, and the new album's first single, "Chillin'," featuring Gaga, entered the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 99, where it remained for only a week before falling off. The second single, "World Tour," has yet to crack the charts.
Wale's manager Rich Kleiman says the records didn't get a reaction not because they didn't have the go-go sound Wale's known for, but because of a lack of radio support.
"Go-go is something Wale is heavily influenced by, but not something he is going to force on people. Still, the same way he introduced them to go-go, he wants to introduce to his fans all of the other sounds he's been influenced by," he says, adding that core fans shouldn't feel neglected. "Although I wish radio would have embraced the track in a bigger way-and we were disappointed it didn't get to the place on the charts we thought it would-we just wanted to put out the track that felt right now."
Wale agrees, stating the music he makes-whether go-go or not-is all part of his element. "I just make music I feel comfortable making, whether it's party music or offensive at times-whatever reflects what I'm feeling," he says.
Wale got his start passing out mixtapes in D.C. He was discovered by Ronson in 2007, and a few months after that, he signed with Ronson's Allido Records. He went on a U.K. tour with his label chief and "shortly after in 2008, I got signed to Interscope," he says.
Despite the lack of chart heat, Interscope is going ahead with the release of his album and launching a number of marketing initiatives. To roll out "Deficit," Wale will introduce in the fall an online video series that "follows his life on a day-to-day basis," marketing director Andrew Flad says. Wale also appears in 2K Sports' "NBA 2K10" videogame, available Oct. 6, as a playable character. Flad adds that Wale and his team are working out a deal for the new "DJ Hero" game that also launches this fall.
In addition to the Jay-Z tour, Wale, who recently took the stage for the VH1 Hip-Hop Honors in New York, will perform as-yet-unannounced one-off dates throughout the country starting in the coming weeks and will release a follow-up single, "Let It Loose" featuring Pharrell, which Kleiman says will give him the momentum he needs until the album's release.
"Wale's the kind of artist that does what he wants when he wants to. That's why the album is titled that way-it's like a focused confusion or an organized mess," Kleiman says. "People usually think, 'What's good for the brand?' But he isn't that type of artist. He realized he was ready to work with mainstream producers and artists but will never lose the backbone of who he is. And although he wants to be a star, he won't sacrifice his fans for it."