With it’s ample upper-tier seating, two huge bars, and gigantic standing room only, the Highline Ballroom proved to be the perfect stomping ground for breakthrough rapper Olubowale Victor Akintimehin, otherwise known as Wale. What makes this D.C.-bred artist revolutionary isn’t his swagger, or his infectious rhythms, or even the sheer fact that he reminds us that cooler things can come out of the nation’s capitol (si, se puede). No, what makes this son of Nigerian immigrants revolutionary is that he combines the street cred and lyrical prowess of his fellow ‘college drop-outs’ without the pretension (which is an incredible feat when your producer and opening act is Mark Ronson).
Backed by a 13-piece band, Wale hit the Highline stage with guitars wailing, horns blaring, and vinyl whirling. A true man of the people, he sated the crowd with shout-outs and some D.C. go-go music, easily noted by the incorporation of African drums and cowbells. Wale is truly D.C.’s first rapper to get mainstream attention and be worth a closer listen…and when you do, you’ll find that Wale’s lyrics might deliver an ode to Nike boots, a jab at college football coaches, or a rant on business suits. He mixes pop references with obscure details–most of which relay some story about his own life cleverly redone for universal appeal. A great example of his storytelling is a mixtape released in 2008 title, “The Mixtape About Nothing,” a clever disc of original rhymes set to the backdrop of audio clips and jokes from Wale’s favorite sitcom, “Seinfeld.” Whether by mixtape or live concert, the moral of this story is that Wale is no joke. Instead he’s the kind of rapper we’ve been waiting for: someone who is astute, determined, and unabashed about serving up rhymes that are stone cold.