released five mixtapes before his first album. With artful rhymes and novel concepts (two of his mixtapes, The Mixtape About Nothing and More About Nothing, have a Seinfeld theme), Wale built a fan base and landed a record deal with Interscope Records, but that didn’t last long. The label dropped him in his 2009, after his debut, Attention Deficit, didn’t perform well commercially.
“I had to fight from that to get back where I was before and surpass even that,” Wale says. “Of course I’m defensive. Wouldn’t you be if you lost everything? Wouldn’t you be defensive if you were working to realize your dream, and you did everything they said you had to, and they still told you you’re not what they want?
“Of course you’re going to be on your toes. I kissed all the babies. What happened? They dropped me. So fu¢k y’all. I’m doing it my way now. I have a chip on my shoulder and every motherfu¢%er reading this right now would too.”
Doing it his way on The Gifted meant a hands-on approach to more than just his rhymes, but the production as well. Wale set out to make an album that was soulful yet aggressive, to use all elements of his favorites: Michael Jackson, 1990s R&B, Marvin Gaye and go-go music to craft an album that would push the boundaries of hip-hop and popular music.
“I want, when people hear the album, for them to feel my passion, my soul. I really took my time with it,” he says finally. “There’s nothing that you hear on the album that’s an accident. It’s me. It’s my thoughts. I’m just making music from the heart.”
Donovan X. Ramsey is a multimedia journalist who writes about all things social, political, cultural, financial and whimsical. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter @iDXR, or DonovanXRamsey.com.