Meet Jay-Z's favourite new rapper

  • 18 August 2009
  • From the section Music

Mark Ronson's rap protégé talks about working with Lady Gaga, giving up football and launching a war on "micro-wave music".

Wale and Lady Gaga
Wale's new single Chillin' features Lady Gaga

Slumped in a chair, Wale (pronounced wah-lay) is playing American football on a hand-held computer console in a London hotel bar.

It's only ironic since that was the sport he gave up four years ago in order to become, in his own words, "the insider's guy, Jay-Z's guy, Pharrell's guy and then P. Diddy's guy."

Having ditched his football scholarship in 2005 ("that was when I decided it really wasn't for me," he says) the 24-year-old Washington DC native's career has grown rapidly having become the established artist's new name to check.

Initially, he gained attention by making mix tapes available for free on the internet. Immediately they caught the eye and ear of musical magpie and producer Mark Ronson.

Ronson's project

"Free music is the way for the future," says Wale, real name Olubowale Victor Folarin. "To get your music off the ground you've got to give it away for free at first."

Excited by what he heard, Ronson signed the young rapper to his label Allido Records and took the reigns on his album, as he did on Amy Winehouse's Back To Black.

"He's a genius, what more can I say? I think he's like the Quincy Jones of the UK," says Wale. "He added to the musical aspect of the album and he just made it more timeless."

The outcome of their three-year musical labour is Attention: Deficit, due out in October.

It features a myriad of soulful vocal talents including J Cole, Melanie Fiona and Damon Albarn's favourite new singer Jazmine Sullivan. TV On The Radio's Dave Sitek also leant a hand on production.

The title itself is a reference to the disposable nature of pop music.

"There's definitely a lot of micro-wave music now," purrs the rapper. "I represent the change of that.

"There's such a lack of attention in the music business. I wanted to make a body of work that kind of symbolised my feelings towards the music industry."

Gaga collaboration

Fulcrum of the album though is Chillin', Wale's current single, which features 2009's biggest headline maker Lady Gaga.

In contrast to the rest of the album, it's a carefree, summer anthem.

"Working with her was incredible. She's just one of those people who really go all in in the studio," he recalls.

"To be able to work with people like her and have people like Jay-Z vouch for you, it's incredible. It makes me feel like I'm doing the right thing.

"Right now I'm just trying to prove myself to the people."

With a seemingly endless list of talents claiming to resuscitate hip hop, where does Wale see himself fitting in?

"I say no boxes and no brackets, but if people choose to put me in one, then so be it. I just make the music."

Chillin' is released on 31 August