Weekend Notes: Wale’s CRWN Interview, Wavy Spice in Baltimore & What’s Going On With Gangsta Gibbs?
Amidst passionately pushing my agenda and arguing with friends about my satisfaction with Yeezus and the absence of satisfaction with Born Sinner, I managed to get some other things accomplished over the weekend.
For starters, some friends of mine in Baltimore brought Wavy Spice to Leon’s—a weird little leather bar (seriously, what better place to have a ballroom-culture inspired, live wire girl from Spanish Harlem to play in front of a bunch of art kids?). Like Jungle Pussy, in appearance, Wavy colorfully dresses in 90’s-inspired gear and is an overall sweet person but that quickly changed when she got on stage. The songs were mostly unrecognizable because she has a small catalog of released material but nonetheless her energy alone had us all jumping around unconsciously (well her, and the endless amounts of whiskey).
A significantly less entertaining situation I found myself in was the streaming of Freddie Gibbs’ ESGN album Saturday morning. I’ve been riding pretty hard for this dude over the past few years—mainly after he bodied CurrenSy on “Scottie Pippens” from the Covert Coup project and the small collection of tracks and mini-movie music videos he had running with Madlib were stellar. Still, Gibbs hasn’t pulled off a full length project. Cold Day In Hell and Baby Face Killa both had great standout tracks but their lack of cohesion with production made the difference between solid tapes and timeless material. When Gibbs is spitting street anecdotes over soulful production, he’s 96.2% from the field but once you throw in some attempts at street anthems and cuts where the beats overpower his smooth, pimp-like inflictions, wide open lay-ups start going “thump” off the back of the rim; after listening in full, ESGN had a lot of missed layups. An early pick for the album’s best cut is “The Color Purple” where Gangsta Gibbs harmonizes about Dirty Sprite while channeling Dennis Edwards. Another early gem from ESGN is some dude named Big Kill on the “D.O.A.” track who apparently is the rap version of Tyrone Biggums with the flow of an OJ Da Juiceman, but with more bottled up anger—sounds amazing.
The highlight of the weekend, if you will, went down in D.C. for the third installment of Elliott Wilson’s CRWN live interview series. Wale was under the microscope and more than anything, I was interested in Elliott’s journalistic approach than I was into Wale. Provocation was left to be desired but if you know the contradictory character that is Wale, then you know the conversation was captivating. When Wale wasn’t complaining about fame, he raised a few points that stood out:
On wanting to be great:
“It’s so sad to me that it’s frowned upon in hip-hop to wanna be upper-echelon, to wanna be amongst the greats. In our generation, you’re not even allowed to aspire. People say, ‘What you wanna be Jay-Z?’ Nah, I just wanna be great. I study this shit and I practice my craft.
On fans flaking once an artist finds success:
“People are lost in nostalgia. People will say they love my old shit but I will rap circles around the old me. I study this rap shit. I was just a nigga rapping because I didn’t have nothin’ to do before. You’re lost because you remember when you first clicked on the record and I was this new kid from D.C. You felt like you discovered it, like you owned it and you gave it up once it became successful. That’s what happens to all of us. Same thing with Drake and Cole. So then people will be like ‘Now I like this new guy because this guy is commercial now’
Around the time Folarin was talking about his push to be great and being hated for his openness with that sentiment, he made a comparison to the sports world (something he can’t seem to refrain from). He said, in the world of pro sports, it’s widely accepted that the young star athlete wants to be better than Hall of Famers or guys who paved the way for them but in rap, it’s viewed as blasphemy. In general, I’d agree with Wale here. Hell, even if a promising young basketball player doesn’t say it himself, some journalist or couch-dweller on Twitter will dub him the next Jordan, Magic or Bird (if he’s white and can shoot). The stan culture in rap is a serious one—I mean, I find it hard to truly accept anyone born in the 90’s listing Pac, B.I.G, Jay and NaS all in their top 5’s; it’s become the standard of faux hip-hop knowledge. It’s the same reason I get into heated arguments while defending Project Pat’s secure place in my top list. It’s not that I’m listing Pat, it’s that I’m not listing a guy who’s recycled #TBT 90’s photo game isn’t proper on Instagram and Tumblr.
Where things get fuzzy is with Wale’s stance on the narcissism of rap fans when it comes to riding for underground guys. There’s a lot of truth, in that, the allure of a relatively unknown rapper is much stronger than when he becomes “tainted” with mass appeal. Same goes for relationships—things tend to feel a bit more special when you have an exclusive situation but when that person gets bored with you and decides that they wanna have more drunken, excited sex and fun, you’re not gonna be into that person as much. But where lines become blurry is that it all depends on if that person made it clear that all they wanted was some hot, drunken sex from the start and you forgot about it because you were so consumed. Wale’s the girl that said “I’m a simple gal, you know? I’m not into partying and getting wasted, I just want that special person to cuddle and watch Miss Congeniality with,” then a few months later she’s twerking on Vine (a little extreme, but that’s the idea). I don’t think the issue with OG Wale fans is his success more than it is his new music. Even while waiting (two long fucking hours) for CRWN to start, recent Wale songs were played including a god-awful auto-tune track and his recent mess of a song “Rotation” with 2 Chainz and Wiz Khalifa (another guy whose music has gotten progressively worse as he’s turned pop).
Yeah, maybe on a technical level Wale’s gotten better with time but as an artist he’s gotten worse. You can’t listen to his 100 Miles And Running tape then listen to Ambition and say “Wow, he’s gotten so much better”. With J Cole, things are on the opposite side of the spectrum; Mostly, Cole hasn’t changed his content or overall theme and tone to his music since The Come Up mixtape. A lot of original fans of his have issues with the impact, or the maintaining of impact in his music. So someone who listens to J Cole can’t say that he’s switched up—”struggle rap” has been his thing from the jump. What someone can say is that the fervor has gone down in decibels; there was an UMPH in The Warm Up that had some rub-off effect that’s just absent in Born Sinner and maybe Cole’s that kind of guy who won’t hold your interest for too long. The vast majority of Born Sinner advocates more than likely got into Cole around the time of Friday Night Lights so they had to go back to listen to his first two tapes. Revisting and experiencing something initially can make all the difference in the world. It’s probably the same reason why I, at 22, can say Reasonable Doubt is one of the greatest rap albums ever with ease but when I talked to a friend in their late 30’s he told me in ‘96, people weren’t so receptive to Jay’s crisp presentation and delivery in the middle of a hyper-aggressive, Backwoods smoking period in rap. In all, Wale is a confusing character; he’s charismatic, extremely knowledgeable of his craft and seems, when not rapping, to have a lot of things figured out but when listening to his music you just get the sense that all the talking just reflects how much he enjoys complaining about fans and fame or whatever else he can do to temporarily deflect attention from just the music.
True Laurels is a bi-monthly zine by music-journalist, Lawrence Burney, that promotes community through music and art. Each issue contains uninhibited diaries from artists, short stories based around music culture, original photos, feature stories, interviews and album reviews. On the web we showcase visual & digital extensions of the zine and the blog, which spans from op-eds on music culture to photos to relevant updates.