It’s not easy to impress Mark Ronson. After working with artists like Christina Aguilera, Amy Winehouse and Bob Dylan, the producer has seen his share of talent. Still, many undiscovered artists take a stab at stirring him, sending in music in hopes of being played on Ronson’s East Village Radio podcast, “Authentic Sh–.” But when the DJ stumbled across a song from mid-Atlantic hip-hop sensation Wale (pronounced wha-lay), he knew he had found a rapper with a special talent.
“There’s not that much hip-hop coming out that excites me,” Ronson told MTV News. “Not like it was. Everything I heard from this kid, I just loved. The more and more I heard his stuff, the more excited I got.”
After hearing the rapper’s early tracks, Ronson met up with Wale and recruited him for his U.K. tour. Hoping to follow in the footsteps of past Ronson collaborators like Ghostface Killah and Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Wale signed with Ronson’s Allido Records. The self-proclaimed “ambassador of rap for the capital” aims to put Washington, D.C., on the map — just don’t expect to two-step, lean back or snap to his music.
“Hip-hop right now is rappers imitating other rappers,” he said. “When they sell 1.2 million ringtones and then they only sell 28,000 records their first week, you know you’re not going to hear from them again. The monotony in hip-hop right now is just disgusting at this point.”
So what does Wale bring to the table that other artists are lacking? That D.C. swagger and songs that combine elements of the area’s native music with crafty lyricism. The blend has impressed hip-hop heavyweights from Fat Joe to Swizz Beatz, and has been moving crowds from Atlanta to Ibiza.
Ronson describes Wale’s rapping style as “a mixture of Lil Wayne and Lupe [Fiasco] and Nas,” and says the rapper’s musical style can’t be clearly defined because he hails “from D.C., where you’re kind of in the middle of a lot of different regions.”
D.C. isn’t known as the capital of rap, but it is known for go-go music, which thrived in the ’70s and ’80s thanks to its godfather, Chuck Brown. Wale has embraced this style of funk and incorporated it into hip-hop beats, using go-go’s live instrumentation and energy to propel his lyrics.
Wale recently dropped his latest mixtape, 100 Miles & Running, on which he showcases his versatility. He raps over go-go-influenced beats on songs like “Ice Cream Girl” and “Breakdown,” as well as other artists’ instrumentals, like Common’s “The People” and the unexpected “D.A.N.C.E.” from French electro-house group Justice. The tape also features remixes of Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” and Lily Allen’s “Smile,” both of which are Ronson creations (see “Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen, More Do Their Versions Of Songs For DJ Mark Ronson” ). There’s even a Ronson remake of Q-Tip’s “Let’s Ride” featuring Australian crooner and Allido labelmate Daniel Merriweather.
“I couldn’t have a better staff at this point,” Wale said of working on his full-length studio album. “I’ve even got Rhymefest in my camp. Rhymefest co-wrote ‘Jesus Walks’ [with Kanye West]. Let’s just say we’ve got some tricks up our sleeves for the ’07 and ’08.
“There’s a time for everything and my time is coming,” he added. “D.C.’s time is coming. A new region will come to the forefront of hip-hop.”
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