29th March 2012
In my own experience, live U.S. hip hop and reliability haven’t exactly gone hand-in-hand. Last summer, Wu-Tang Clan took to the Academy 1 stage an hour late whilst Kid Cudi gave just twenty-four hours notice, and no explanation, when he cancelled a hotly-anticipated Club Academy appearance in 2010.
As a result, the most striking feature of tonight’s show is Wale’s consummate professionalism. Arriving a mere ten minutes after his scheduled stage time, he and his hype man launch straight into ‘The Problem’, the opening track from last year’s More About Nothing mixtape. It’s an appropriate choice, especially given Wale’s career to date can be summed up in the lyric “I made my mistakes, you see life’s lemons often come in abundance”. He’d easily be excused for thinking he’d used up his career supply of lemons already; after the Seinfeld-inspired Mixtape About Nothing promised to put the Washington D.C. rap scene on the map and mark out Wale as one of the next great rap superstars, he saw his major-label debut, Attention Deficit, flop commercially despite a warm critical reception. His reinvention since has been impressive. After signing to Maybach Music Group alongside Rick Ross, Wale’s sophomore LP Ambition dominates the setlist tonight, with ‘90210’, ‘Miami Nights’ and ‘Chain Music’ meeting with a fervent response, whilst mellower, phones-in-the-air moments are provided by the title track as well as lead single ‘Lotus Flower Bomb’.
There is no doubting Wale’s talent and his ability to translate it into a live environment. Lyrically astute and with impressive flow, the hype is certainly justified as far as ability is concerned. It’s a shame, then, that Wale engages in minimal crowd interaction despite the venue’s intimacy, and plays for little over an hour before disappearing with scant acknowledgement for the fans. Wale has extensive live experience, having toured with Mark Ronson and Jay-Z; if only he drew on it, he could be providing one of the slickest live hip hop experiences on the circuit.