If you aren’t a fan of hip-hop and are dreading Yardfest this Sunday, don’t write off the event just yet: Olubowale Victor Akintimehin—otherwise known as Wale—is an up-and-coming D.C. rapper and DJ whose innovative work tackles tough issues with a creative bent. Incorporating go-go music, his African background, and unconventional drum beats into his music, Wale has differentiated himself through collaborations with artists ranging from Lady Gaga and Marsha Ambrosius to Talib Kweli and David Sitek of TV on the Radio. FM caught up with Wale to talk about his musical influences, the upcoming performance at Harvard, and freestyling at Denny’s.
1. Fifteen Minutes: How did you break into the music business?
Wale: Uh, the old fashioned way. Really, I was just blind.
2. FM: Can you talk a little bit about how growing up in D.C. has affected you and your music?
Wale: Obviously it isn’t directly or indirectly. I like the drums—the drums I normally pick for my beats kind of have that element. Mid-’90s go-go music is definitely a platform for my music.
3. FM: You played football for Robert Morris University and Virginia State. What caused you to switch your focus from athletics to music, or had you always loved both?
Wale: I think I might have loved football more than music for the majority of my life. It kind of fluctuates now, goes in and out now. Some days I wake up and just wish I were in training camp and some days I wake up glad that I’m about to get on the stage.
4. FM: How do you feel about performing at Harvard? Will it be different from your other performances in any way?
Wale: Every show is different. I always add a little something because it always feels different. I am going to give it all I got like I always do, you know what I’m saying, and Harvard always shows me a lot of love.
5. FM: What genres of music or which artists do you feel that you are most influenced by?
Wale: Hip-hop, Afro-beat, reggae, a little bit, R&B, a lot of soul.
6. FM: It seems that your songs deal with issues like racism that are heavier than many popular rap songs. Why did you choose to take this route with your music?
Wale: I just think that music is the way to speak to people. I just like to talk about what is on my mind. Whatever is on my mind whenever I am writing in the studio is just what I have to go on.
7. FM: Who do you feel your audience is?
Wale: Everybody, just everybody. I don’t have a target. Nothing I do is really calculated or strategic—I just speak with my heart.
8. FM: You have worked with a lot of bands that do not typically fall into the pop or hip-hop categories, such as TV on the Radio and Justice. Is there a reason that you are drawn to these artists?
Wale: No, I just like the music. I don’t really like putting things in a box. I just like what they do.
9. FM: What is your favorite track on your album “Attention Deficit”?
Wale: I recorded 35 songs for my album. Cutting it down to 14 was a task in itself, so I really couldn’t say that. I am low-key trying to do a video for every song because I am just so passionate about all of them. Maybe I am just overly passionate about my work.
10. FM: Would you say the videos for “Attention Deficit” are your next big project? What are you currently working on? What is your next big thing?
Wale: I am just trying to finish this tour so that I can get back to being creative 24/7. I am not at my finest moment as far as creativity goes right now.
11. FM: Do you collect anything?
Wale: Sneakers, a little bit.
12. FM: Which pair of sneakers is your favorite in your collection?
Wale: Probably my Foam Violets. I have been wearing them a lot recently, but a pair of shoes might be my favorite for like a month and then I’ll switch them.
13. FM: I saw the video of you freestyling at Denny’s. What were the circumstances leading up to the trip to Denny’s and what prompted your freestyle?
Wale: Way too much time on the tour bus.
14. FM: What is the craziest thing that a fan has ever done for you?
Wale: Flashed me...flashed me, yeah. Flashing is not so bad, though. Oh, you know what? I take that back. A fan gave me...what is the politically correct way to say this? She gave me her battery-operated boyfriend to sign at an autograph signing when my album came out.
15. FM: Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians?
Wale: You guys at Harvard are better off than me...or 99.9% of us rappers. There is no money in hip-hop, so if that is what your intentions are, you are in the wrong profession, but if you are in it for the love, God bless you.