Why Wale Doesn't Want His Songs to Go Viral Immediately in Today's Streaming Era

Danilo Lewis
Wale

Wale may be cooling down the Hot 100 right now thanks to his Jeremih-assisted single "On Chill," but he's got no plans to freeze up after the summer. 

The 34-year-old Washington D.C. native is currently riding the success of the sultry R&B jam, with the single sitting at No. 48 on the Hot 100, down a few slots from its No. 45 peak last week. It's his highest-charting track since he hit No. 21 with "Bad" in 2013.

It's just the beginning of an exciting fall for Wale, who will return with his sixth studio album -- and his first since departing Atlantic Records in favor of Warner Records -- titled Wow... That's Crazy, due out Oct. 11. Additionally, he begins his Everything Is Fine tour in Fort Lauderdale on Sept. 30. Wale will play 16 more U.S. dates during the month of October to promote the new LP.

Below, the veteran rapper talks to Billboard about adapting to the streaming age, working to have "On Chill" and other songs "cut through" and gives a teaser or two about Wow... That's Crazy.

Why do you think “On Chill” has taken off since its release?

I think it speaks to a lot of people. With Millennials and Gen Z, relationships are kind of tricky. Some of them are undefined. It's about to be cuffing season after Hot Girl Summer -- everyone's gonna be on chill for the fall and the winter. 

Why did you decide to use Raphael Saadiq’s “Ask of You” sample?

He’s one of the greatest musicians of our time, from Tony! Toni! Toné! and beyond. I'm just blessed that he allowed me to sample him. I remember me and Rick Ross were on the way to the Dreamville session, and he was on the phone with Raphael Saadiq and I was like, "I got this sample I really want, I hope that you clear it," and he's like, "No problem." 

I actually got to perform with him at the Spotify [House of Are & Be during Essence Fest]. I was nervous as hell because he was like, "Yo, just get on the mic, let's freestyle." I was like, "I don't know what to say." He was like, "Boy, this is what you do." I made it work though.

So there were no problems clearing the sample? Those situations can get messy.

Oh no. We've definitely had sample issues with other songs, like "Gemini." I had to change the beat at the last hour, but not with this one.

This is your highest-charting Hot 100 hit since “Bad” peaked at No. 21 in 2013. How have you adjusted as a veteran rapper in the modern streaming era?

It's weird because everything officially changed in the streaming world and the music consumption world the week after I dropped The Album About Nothing [in 2015]. Everything has drastically changed to uber streaming and I’ve been trying to find my way since that, because I was a hard album kind of guy. I've adjusted in a natural way because I've stayed true to what I do.

Talk to me about that change to streaming. Was the shift immediate?

Yeah. I think the infrastructure of labels and music became more microwaved. We've always had different types of music, but it became more disposable around that time. It seems like more of it's coming out faster than ever, so it's hard to cut through all the noise sometimes, which makes it kind of frustrating when you're trying to say things.

As a result, do you ever focus on making a more streaming-friendly product?

At this point, we really don't even know what a streaming-friendly song is like. You can do the algorithm thing and inspire features and all of that, but I don't really know. If I could crack the code, maybe. I just try to make the best music I can because a lot of songs go top 20 and then they’re gone in a week. It’s more rewarding [with “On Chill”] because I feel we got it out of the mud. Some people go right to the charts when they drop anything, and I just feel like how I got it means more to me.

What can we expect from the new album, Wow... That's Crazy?

If you like "On Chill," you're gonna really love the album, because it's essentially like a loosely based story that follows the "On Chill" narrative. Because "On Chill" is a record about dating but not tripping on whoever you deal with on your time. That's a chapter and there's a fight, there's a break up, there's a my fault and her fault, there's all these layers to it. There's an opening credits on the album, it's like that.

Are there any features you can tell us about?

I'll give you one with me and Lil Durk -- it's me baring myself, like, my transgressions with a female. I've ruined this whole thing, it's all my fault. The thing that I love about it is the way it's arranged -- it almost sounds like it could be a Durk song, and then I come out of nowhere and now it's my song. And Durk is the perfect person for that record because he’s brutally honest.

Why did you want to go with "On Chill" as one of the singles to release ahead of the album?

I think it's almost like a trailer to where the album is headed. Obviously, it's not just all songs about relationships, but it highlights that we’re right in the middle. We’re not head over heels for each other but we're not broken up. So, we can explore both sides of that on the album as well as me talking a bunch of shit on some rap shit too. 

Anything in particular or just generally talking shit?

You know, rappers, we got to keep the pen in the sword shop.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Sept. 14 issue of Billboard.

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