Jan. 21, 2020 | Bobby Carter — “I was talking to J. Cole about me doing this,’ Wale said as we rode the elevator up to the Tiny Desk. “He told me to just do my thing, but I wish I had more time to work this set out.” Wale’s friend and fellow MC was just one of several people who offered advice on how to approach his appearance for the Tiny Desk Fest. But I reminded him he’s performed with a live band as much as any other rapper we’ve hosted, which seemed to put his mind at ease. Wale arrived eight hours before his scheduled set time and, after just minutes of rehearsal, quickly settled in and shook off any pre-show jitters.
More than 10 years ago, the man born Olubowale Victor Akintimehin generated a lot of buzz in the D.C. area with a host of mixtapes showcasing his MC skills over popular instrumentals. What separated him from the hundreds of other hopeful rappers trying to make names for themselves online was his ability to fuse go-go music — D.C.’s homegrown spin on funk — with hip-hop. (Well, that and a crazy mixtape tribute to Seinfeld.) In 2011, Wale joined forces with Rick Ross and his Maybach Music Group and had a real breakout with “Lotus Flower Bomb,” the lead single from his sophomore album, Ambition. It went on to earn him a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Song in 2013.
A native of the D.C., Maryland and Virginia area (or DMV), Wale’s calling card remains the rap ballad, a streak he continued on his 2019 album, Wow… That’s Crazy, which debuted at No. 7 on Billboard’s Top 200. It reveals a man more self-aware than ever, exposing flaws and struggles while keeping his self confidence fully intact.
Wale’s Tiny Desk concert opens with his very first hit record and ends with his latest. Sandwiched between are highlights from his catalogue with a special nod to his hometown sound, courtesy of his touring band, Tre And The Ppl (formerly UCB). Tre is Wale’s right hand on stage and their effortless chemistry has been intact since the beginning.
Throughout 2019, Wale was pretty vocal on social media about the Tiny Desk. In September, he tweeted, “Still never done tiny desk.. and it’s like 20 min away…”. About a month later, on the same night Ward 5 Council member Kenyan McDuffie told the D.C. City Council go-go should be the official music of the district — and the night the Washington Nationals won the World Series — Wale finally made it.
“Lotus Flower Bomb”
Wale: vocals; Tre: vocals; Jerry Venable: percussion; Eric Curry: drums; Glenn Cobb: keys; Daniel Bennet: bass; Stanley Thompson: guitar
Producers: Abby O’Neill, Bobby Carter, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative director: Bob Boilen; Audio engineers: Josh Rogosin, James Willetts; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Maia Stern, Niki Walker, CJ Riculan, Jack Corbett; Production assistant: Tsering Bista; Executive producer: Lauren Onkey; VP, programming: Anya Grundmann; Photo: Eric Lee/NPR