Wale Q&A: Leader of the New Cool

Peeking through the jungle of Auto-Tune is the catchy Lady Gaga-assisted single “Chillin'” spearheading the energy of Wale’s debut album Attention Deficit (Sept. 22). No need to worry, fans. The D.C. native isn’t suggesting we’re in need of a tutor, but he is trying to revive the artistry of hip-hop that got lost between dance directions and singing robots. Is this self-proclaimed “cool kid in school” leading Gen Y to greener pastures? Wale speaks with Rap-Up.com about his position in the industry, chasing Kanye, befriending everyone from Jay-Z to Lindsay Lohan, and his sneaker game.

Why did you choose to call your album Attention Deficit? Is there something we need to know that isn’t being told to us?
I feel like the direction music is going in is so disposable now. Labels sign guilty pleasures. A&Rs really sit up there and say, “OK, this person is wack, but we’re going to sign him because this song is catchy.” I kind of represent music as a whole rather than a big record. I kind of represent the show and the songmanship and I feel like there’s an attention span. Consumers have grown very stingy with their attention span and that’s what the album reflects. Also, I believe that every day in your life is different. January 1, 2010, will be different than January 1, 2011, no matter if you go to the same place with the same people with the same thing. Everything is different and life is essentially ADD because it’s all over the place.

“Chillin'” is getting a lot of spins on the airwaves. The song sounds like it was created with M.I.A. or Santigold in mind. Was it intended for someone else besides Lady Gaga?
“Chillin'” is a record that is different than everything on my album and I think the fans know that. It’s like I’m the new guy in school. I was popular in my old school, which was the underground, and I’m the new guy in a bigger school now. I just whispered at the most popular girl in school like, “Yo, I’m having a party. Can you come and invite everybody to my party? It will be the shit.” Gaga is the popular girl in school and she hands out the invitations and the party is essentially me and my album. When you come to the party, or the album, you hear what I’m about—what my previous school was yapping about.

With her style and uniqueness, it’s great to see you two come together. What was it like working with Gaga?
Incredible. She’s a very talented musician. She’s kind of underrated from her musicianship standpoint. I think a lot of people think it’s more style over substance, but if you’re in the studio, you would know she’s very musical and everything is kind of a big idea with her. She makes sure that she has a goal when she writes.

Are Kid Cudi and Chrisette Michele on the album?
I got a song with Cudi. Chrisette’s is probably one of my favorite songs on the album. I got a lot of songs with a lot of people that people may never hear.

You’ve spoken about wanting to work with Kanye West, but he never returned your calls. How’s that going?
I hit him on his birthday and he hit me back. ’Ye’s just busy. He’s got his own thing going on, but I hope me and him could work soon. I might call him again today, but I know the game and he’s a real busy dude and I can’t really knock him for that.

You two do share a great love for kicks. I know that’s one of your things…
’Ye’s shoe game got nothing on mine [laughs].

Would you consider making your own sneaker at some point?
It would have to be with either Nike or Jordan.

You compare your life right now to being popular in school and it holds some truth. Lindsay Lohan is a fan of yours and you’re friends with Jay-Z and a few other celebrities. How’s that lifestyle compared to what you’re used to?
It’s so weird because it’s kind of like a direct reflection of my life. I got fans from Lindsay Lohan to Young Jeezy that mess with what I’m doing. I was born and raised in a very inner city, urban environment and you could go a week without seeing a white person. By the third time I moved it was like 50/50 black and white, so I’ve learned to make friends with all types of people. It’s kind of reflecting with my career because I got friends like Jay-Z and I got friends like Lindsay Lohan.

–Monique Balcarran