MCs To Watch In 2009: Wale

'Every day I just wake up and figure out how I can make myself better,' D.C. rapper says.

In 2009, we expect to hear big things from some up-and-coming rappers in the game. Each day we'll profile a new artist that we think you should keep your eyes and ears open for in the coming year. On Monday we brought you Atlanta's very own, very different B.o.B. — now we have D.C.'s best-kept secret, Wale.

Wale is the LeBron James of rap. Other rappers, including

[artist id="510062"]Lil Wayne[/artist], have claimed that title, but think about it: Before James played one game in the NBA, he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and ESPN broadcast his high school games. Wale has yet to release an album, but this is his second feature with MTV News.

James had various companies — including Nike — champing at the bit, waiting for him to graduate. Wale has appeared in ads for nearly every streetwear brand — including Nike — waiting for him to blow. They have both traveled the world, but they still rep their hometowns big-time (Cleveland Cavalier LeBron is from Akron, but it's close to Cleveland).

LeBron handled the pressure of being the "next big thing" better than anyone would have imagined, and Wale is taking it in stride as well.

"I really try not to get involved with thinking I'm the next big thing because it's, like, I've been doing this," said the Washington, D.C., rapper said. "Every day I just wake up and I figure out how I can make myself better."

Wale says he takes everything day-by-day — that before he sells a million records, he wants to remain the same person he was at the age of 15, running around D.C. and Maryland, just older and wiser.

Despite all the touring, D.C. hasn't left him. In fact, he brings his hometown to every show, because Wale's band is a go-go band — go-go music originated in D.C. in the mid-'70s, and is a staple of the region.

"Go-go music is essentially jazz on steroids," Wale explained. "That's what I like to think of it as. It's swing. It's heavy on the percussion.

"A lot of people have bands re-create their tracks 100 percent of the way, exactly how you hear it on the radio," he continued. "When we do my show, we twist the song a little bit, because we want to give the people something extra."

Wale says his band's signature sound has created a show those outside the D.C. area are not accustomed to. He attributed the show's success to the fact that he learned under the guidance of world-renowned DJ [artist id="1208352"]Mark Ronson[/artist].

"Mark gives me a whole different way to appreciate music," he said. "Especially going into my live show, I know what to want now. I know what to ask for and I know what to aim for."

While he hasn't released an album, the popularity of his Mixtape About Nothing has helped Wale establish his music outside of the mid-Atlantic region.

"The reception is crazy, because they know the show," he said. "I'm not looking to be the next

[artist id="1269"]Jay-Z[/artist] or the next [artist id="1000"]Nas[/artist]. I want my shows to be legendary like [artist id="900"]Daft Punk [/artist]shows, like [artist id="2455063"]Justice[/artist] shows."

Also check out Asher Roth, Kid Cudi, B.o.B. and Charles Hamilton in our "MCs to Watch in '09" series.