The Power Of Words

This week has been great for listening to music for me. Not too busy, and just enough time alone to really think about what I was hearing. Some might find it interesting that this week I listened to a few rap music albums. Why interesting? Well, several years ago I would never listen to an entire album of rap music. Of course, I would take time to hear a song or two, but never an entire album. At the time I did not feel an entire album of rap was necessary to form an opinion of a rap artist. However, I have changed my way of thinking, and also occupation – music blogger. With this blog I am required to listen in a way to fully understand the music, the writer, and artist. Many times all three are the same person wearing three creative hats. Long before I began contributing to this blog I thought rap artists were generally very creative. Words are very powerful. Understanding how to use words means that an individual can either help or hurt others. Sometimes the effect can be felt much more than actions. The rap artist of today works to reach an audience and communicate feelings, ideas and thoughts all through a carefully crafted use of words. In order to demonstrate, this week I chose to feature American rapper Wale.

Over a period of several previous months, the rap music community has been buzzing about the social media beef between rappers Drake and Meek Mill. Fights that play out on Twitter are a common occurrence among modern-day entertainers, but for rap artists the disagreements usually escalate to musical jabs called “diss” tracks. That is exactly what happened in the case of Drake and Meek Mill. As with many disagreements though, a third party is pulled into the middle of the fracas. In this case it was Meek Mill friend and label mate Wale. Well, most fans of one or all three involved know what happened and where everyone stands currently. If you don’t know, we will revisit the situation at the end of this post. For now, let’s discuss Wale and his musical works.

Wale, a Nigerian American, was born Olubowale Victor Akintimehin in Northwest, Washington, D.C. on September 21, 1984. His parents are of the Yoruba ethnic group of southwestern Nigeria and came to the United States from Austria in 1979. Wale’s family first lived in Northwest, Washington, DC before moving to Montgomery County when Wale was 10. He graduated from Quince Orchard High School in Gaithersburg, Maryland in 2002 and later moved to Largo, Maryland in Prince George’s County. Wale attended Robert Morris University and Virginia State University on football scholarships, then transferred to Bowie State University but dropped out due to academic reasons.

Wale has been working in the music industry for very close to ten years, which started locally in the Washington D.C. area. In March 2008, Wale signed a joint venture deal with Mark Ronson’s Allido Records and Interscope. On November 10, 2009 Wale’s first album, Attention Deficit debuted at the number 21 spot on the Billboard 200. The first single off Attention Deficit was “Chillin”, featuring Lady Gaga, followed by “Pretty Girls” featuring Gucci Mane and Weensey and “World Tour” featuring Jazmine Sullivan. I went back this week and listened to this album, and found much of the foundation for who the artist Wale is today. In AllMusic Dave Jeffries said that Wale is, “A quick-witted rapper able to deliver punchlines at breakneck speed.” He added, “the hyperactive album is filled with grand statements, provocative jokes, and busy productions, and yet, it’s an accessible listen first time out, thanks mostly to Wale’s natural delivery and quirky sense of humor.” I feel Jeffries description is right on the money when it comes to Attention Deficit. Truly a great launching place for the talented rapper.

The difference between Wale in 2009 and Wale today is simple: he has improved as a rapper, and also has grown a few years older and wiser. Along the way he picked up a Grammy nomination in 2013 for his hit song, “Lotus Flower Bomb” featuring Miguel. Earlier this year he released his fourth studio album The Album About Nothing. It’s an interesting fact that Wale is a big fan of Jerry Seinfeld. Wale used a lot of dialogue from Seinfeld throughout the album. In speaking further about Seinfeld’s role on the album Wale stated, “He’s the narrator. He’s essentially like my conscience. You can look at him as kind of explaining what’s happening if you get lost during the story. He’ll come in and give you an update.” As I listened to The Album About Nothing, I realized that Wale really had delivered an album that spoke about life. It spoke in an honest way that his fans, and even those not yet fans, could understand. In an interview with Wale spoke about how it is his most personal album, saying: “It’s super personal. It’s like a journal that my whole lifestyle is based around. Before, with my music, I was like the point guard with all the handles. Now I’m just taking it straight to the cup. I’m not moon walking to get from point A to point B. I’m running from point A and through point B. You guys are going to hear what I’m saying. I’m going to be as transparent as I can be.”

Well, back to that social media, “diss” track beef between Drake and Meek Mill. It did play out with Drake being declared the overwhelming winner by the jury of public opinion. Wale however, remained diplomatic about the entire event. He chose not to take sides, explaining in an interview on The Breakfast Club Radio Show that he had nothing against either artist. He further added after everything that has been said, both rappers are still alive, and will continue to express themselves by delivering more music to their fans. In speaking with some fans there is a feeling that Meek Mill’s standing in the rap music community has been irreparably damaged. Time will tell if this is true or not.

After thinking about everything I am reminded of the familiar line written by Edward Bulwer-Lytton in his play Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy – “Beneath the rule of men entirely great, The pen is mightier than the sword.” Indeed!

* photo by Jimmy Fontaine

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