During a Billboard New York office visit ahead of the release of Wale's sixth studio album, Wow…That's Crazy, the rapper is present for a spirited debate about his rap class. As Billboard colleagues and Wale's cohorts comb through his heralded generation of fellow MCs — which includes rap heavyweights such as Drake, J. Cole, and Kendrick Lamar — it's Wale's humility that catches the room off-guard.
"Man, I think I'm the sixth man of my generation," he quips. "I have highlights, I've accomplished a lot, but I think I'm like a Jamal Crawford."
Interestingly enough, Wale announced on Twitter a few weeks later that he is, in fact, one of the greatest rappers ever. "Last album had one platinum and two gold singles," he tweeted. "I just don't be talkin my talk all the time cuz I got some things goin on in my head.. but what we not gon do is act like the hits haven't been comin for ten years. Okurrrr."
What changed? It's unclear. But what's inarguable is that Wale's confidence is higher than ever — even after his previous media flubs and record label missteps.
"Here's the thing, and I say this in the most humble way: look what I've done," he says during our next encounter. Although Wale's commercial stats aren't quite as gaudy as his A-list peers, it's hard to ignore his resume. He boasts two No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 chart, and last month the D.C. native netted his 20th Hot 100 single with "On Chill" featuring Jeremih. Skeptics thought Wale was destined to fade into rap oblivion after he bolted from Atlantic Records in 2017, his new deal with Warner has him riding high. "On Chill" sits at No. 23 on the Hot 100, and may surpass his 2013 single "Bad" as the highest-charting lead record of his career. The single consists of a buttery hook from Jeremih and two love-drunk verses from Wale, who eagerly wants to remedy his failing relationship: "It's no pressure for us to say that I love you for now/ So fuck that cuffin' shit, I just want us be comfortable now, for real," he raps.
It's Wale's level of candor that makes Wow…That's Crazy, out today (Oct. 11), such an intriguing listen. "Expectations" (featuring 6LACK) finds Wale wrestling with his inner demons: "Black man in therapy/ 'Cause white terror don't sleep/ I got to roll up my leaf/ Might stop the PTSD." Meanwhile, the Pink $weats-assisted "50 in the Safe" showcases Wale admitting to and working his way through his vices.
"Everybody wants to be loved," he admits. "Anybody who says they don't wanna be loved or that they don't care. They're probably trying to deflect."
In a new interview with Billboard, Wale speaks about why he is one of the greatest rappers of all time, his confidence as a black man in America, if not receiving love from the African-American community bothers him and learning how to overcome his problems.
Recently, you told me you felt like you're the "sixth man" of your hip-hop class. After the success of "On Chill", do you still feel the way?
I mean, I've always had big records. Every project I've ever put out, I've put out a big record with the exception of my first album], and that's because I was halfway out the door of Interscope when I put it out. I've never been defined by a record. I think I'm one of the greatest of all time, though. They can do with that what they want, and I know I'm one of the greatest of all time.
You said that on Twitter, after a Top 50 Rappers list began circulating on social media.
I ain't ever been like "the media darling," you know what I'm saying? I wouldn't give up. We get the skills, afterwards, but I didn't give up. With my first deal at Interscope, they dropped me. I bounced back and got even bigger. I got with Rick] Ross and was the first MMG artist to go platinum and do those numbers, because Meek Mill] came right after. I was the first one to do a joint venture. I took what I learned from the industry and went even crazier.
Things didn't work out with Atlantic and I went and did my indie thing for two projects and boom, bidding war. Every label submitted an offer to me. I'm probably the only rapper to have done a single with Rihanna, Lady Gaga, SZA, Megan Thee Stallion, Nicki Minaj, all of them. I mean, obviously Beyonce is the legend, but all the women that has defined this generation of music, I've worked with them. Dua Lipa, too.
Look at the artists that I was first on. J. Cole, because Jay-Z's] "A Star Is Born" was recorded right after "Beautiful Bliss." Again, I'm not saying I helped these people's careers, but I'm saying I had the foresight.
Do you feel that your level of foresight is underrated?
Nah. Maybe we gon' have to get it right after this album, and maybe I'll take some time to get a label position. I have an imprint, but that's something I've been thinking about, getting a proper label situation, being stationary and just focusing on breaking artists and doing that kind of thing. I think if I can focus on that, then I can change the game from a foresight and vision kind of place.
I’m one of the greatest rappers of all time . There I said it…
— Wale (@Wale) August 6, 2019
The losses you've encountered in your career — would you say you were responsible, or was it the label?
Both. I'm the master of self-sabotage, sometimes. I can fuck up a good thing. It's just one of them things that's just a part of being me. I'll fuck up a good thing. I'll fuck up a good relationship. I'll fuck up a good friendship. But, at the same time, I think there's responsibility to be had on all places. I don't really think it's a "loss," though. You just move on. I'm like a basketball player that got traded or just went to another team. I'm still an All-Star.
On "50 in the Safe," you rap, "Confidence fluctuating, that's why I'm anti-social." Where's your confidence level at today — as a rapper and as a black man in today's America?
As a black man in America, my shit is never gonna be 100. So there's a little paranoia. As a young n—a with some money and a name, if you by yourself, somebody might try you or people are gonna get too close. If you're with too many people, you're detached. So you're never really free. The second I start feeling free and I'm running around, something reminds me why I stay my ass in the house. I'm not all the way comfortable or confident.
Then, with being a black man, I can still get pulled over and get shot. As a rapper, I'm comfortable with who I am and what I stand for. I see a lot of things that aren't really authentic in this game, but that's on them. If you can pay that price and you don't see no issue with it — because hip-hop is lick to some people. It's not a lick to me, it's my lifestyle. It's my passion. If it was a lick for me, I'd lie my whole way to the top. I'm in the middle.
On "Sue Me," you speak about rooting for everybody who's black to win. Do you feel our community has offered you the same support during your career?
Does anybody get it, really? I mean, do you get it unless you're inescapable? Who got that support?
I think Hov has.
But he didn't get that until his fifth album, maybe?
Probably The Black Album.
So who do we really love? I think white people love Taylor Swift a lot. They stand behind her. I mean, she got her shit, too, but I get love. It's just unfortunate that I get love because I'm famous. Like people] would try to associate a song with me so they can start conversation and do whatever they want. So, it kind of makes you jaded. Like, I'll be in the airport for 30 minutes taking pictures with people that don't know one song, but they see the other person ask, and the other person ask, and then they want one.
They just do it for the 'Gram.
Yeah, and it makes it kind of difficult. Imagine me doing it for 30 minutes in L.A., and I see some real fans. I'm already looking at these cats asking like, "Alright, come on and let's get it over with." But the love is good, though, when it's real.
You have a knack for giving black women positive affirmations through some of your records like "BGM" or "Ambitious Girl." Why do you still think it's important to uplift women of color?
I think they're the least celebrated, in the grand scheme of things. Well, maybe not, because I think we celebrate black women, but not as much as we should. I think black men are the least celebrated, but black women got it the hardest.
Being a woman, imagine knowing you're not going to be feeling well for a least two, three days out the month. Then, you're the least paid out of everybody working. Then, you're the least acknowledged if it's outside of being a sexual object. So that's three things you have to wake up to that's inevitable every fucking day. I mean, having a daughter and having so many influential black women in my life, I feel like it was in my heart to make that record "BGM"].
Where's your mind set at as a father, now versus the days of Shine?
Well, my daughter is developing her personality. It's difficult because I'm moving around a lot. I'm not moving the way I want to move. I'll leave it at that. I'm not moving how I'd ideally like to move and I know it's stressful for her mother and myself. Luckily, she has a very understanding and brilliant mother. I'm grateful for that. It's definitely made me a lot more sensitive to things and then more dedicated to make this shit work out.
You've been open with your vices, especially your struggles with drinking. Has that gotten easier since having a daughter?
It's less vices, for sure. It's more so me and my personality. Like, I'm already walking in the room like, n—-s don't fuck with me because of things that have gotten back to me, the things that I've read, and people who've stopped reporting. So sometimes, I'd do stuff like smoking to just not think about that and just get the task done. Like I said, it's moreso about my uneasiness around people that I think don't fuck with me and I know I have to be in a certain area. That's about as honest as I can put it.
I don't sit there like, "Oh, I wanna get drunk today or I wanna get high." Nah, I be like, "Man, I wanna do this and I don't wanna be thinking about if I'm offending these people or if I'm not greeting them properly." You'd be amazed to see the reasons why certain people don't fuck with me. It might have been something that happened in 2009 and I was at a festival and I didn't dap up somebody. They hold me to a different regards, sometimes more] than other people.
You have Bryson Tiller on the project for "Her Fault." Where does he stand among some of the R&B artists that you've worked with in the past?
Man, I can't even rank them joints, because I'm not even in it like that. But I do know he's one of the voices of this generation, for sure. He's one of the leading voices and he changed the game with Trapsoul. That's forever in stone.
Is there an R&B artist that you worked with whose work ethic amazed you in the studio?
One person that I was just fascinated with was Raheem DaVaughn early on in my career. I just saw his recording process, and I won't give it away, but it's just a sight to see for real.
Better than some rappers' recording process?
It's just different. It's just really, really different. It's like some next-level shit.
Do you still care about the love you may or may not get from D.C.?
I mean, you want to be successful and you want to be great. I'm trying not to overly consume myself with that, because it's like, if you don't rock with me now, I don't know what more I can do. Maybe it's not for you and if it's not for you, then I feel sorry for you, you know what I'm saying? Even Michael Jordan had haters. LeBron got haters. Kobe got haters. No matter how good you are.
With sports, it's definite. Sports is absolute. It's either you had 50 points or you didn't. So you can have 50 points and n—-s be like, "Oh, you ain't passing, though." You] can have 50 assists and n—-s be like, "Oh, you can't shoot." Triple-double? "Oh, you just stacking the numbers." Hip-Hop is more subjective. You can be like, "Oh, I don't like that verse. That verse is wack. He wack."
I feel like with MMG — you, Ross and Meek — this is the strongest you guys have been since first joining forces from a commercial standpoint. How do you think Ross and Meek has evolved over the years as MCs?
It's just natural progression. We've all progressed with the situations that we were dealt with and with our talents. Everybody just kept going at the same pace. It wasn't just like a big jump out of nowhere. Everybody's been falling to where their trajectory was heading earlier.
You were supposed to executive produce Self-Made 4.
Then, a lot happened with the crew. And the imprint wasn't on Atlantic no more. It was a lot.
If it's just you three, I think a gem can really be made.
That was the intention. I mean, never say never, though. Never say never.
If you can pick one word to title this chapter in your life, what word would that be and why?
Just knowing where I've been mentally and just my mind set and knowing where I'm at now. I can see there's a lot of growth in myself, and who knows if the world is going to see it. Like I said, there's a lot of noise all the time, but I see it in myself.