Wale Watch: The “Support The Movement” Movement
Wale's Attention Deficit is in stores today. For those not paying attention to rap buzz or this blog the DC/MD MC has emerged in recent years as the great hope of the area's rap community. And, by my count, his debut marks the first major label release from a local rapper in nearly a decade.
I considered penning a post about how DC should unify and support Wale's effort. I wouldn't be the only person on the internet to do so. Even more than usual, the local rap bloggers and twitterers have been abuzz with well meaning but mostly empty words like support and movement.
But I decided against such a gesture. Instead let us step back and ask ourselves what a major label album release means in 2009. Not just to Wale or the greater DC area but to the world at large: nothing. As Dwayne Johnson once eloquently told Clef, it doesn't matter.
Albums are completely irrelevant, especially in hip hop. Neither of this years most popular (relative) newcomers – Gucci Mane & Drake – have released albums. They make mixtapes and, occasionally, hit singles. Wale managed to do the former but then lost the track when he put all his eggs into Attention Deficit and the accompanying non-hits. For all his talents, Wale has never seemed like a natural hitmaker and his attempts to be one stand as the some of the album's weakest moments.
And yes, his signing has done wonders for the DMV hip hop movement, but indirectly so. The attention (npi) he's been getting over the past few years was a spark. He created a tangible end goal for the DC rapper and many kids either picked up a mic or got serious about their craft in the wake of his buzz. But that doesn't mean that the success of the scene should (or can) hinge on his.
Best case and very unlikely scenario: Wale becomes a huge star and a dozen more DC rappers sign deals in the wake of this. All this does is narrows the goals for the scene. The talent (very few of whom I would describe as potential hitmakers themselves) are distracted as they scramble to create hits and build buzz in much the same way Wale has been. Maybe two or three of them actually succeed and manage to release their own albums. Maybe an even smaller fraction of them are able to turn that attention into a long term national career. The rest come back to DC and get back to doing what they've been doing or just disappear completely.
Cities don't get put on, not in the long term. Consider all too brief success of recently hot rap regions: Houston and the Bay Area. Sure, their respective major label ambassadors have expanded national awareness. Many more Americans now know the names Chamillionaire and E-40, but these days just as few are interested in their work or that of their peers. These guys were legitimate stars in their cities prior to blowing up. Now the best of them they are back to being just that, the worst of them are virtual unknowns (where's Mike Jones at?)
And, to put things in greater perspective, the label only shipped 30k copies of Attention Deficit, a pretty sure sign that this is not an album that is going to leave a permanent Nike Boot shaped footprint in the collective consciousness of the music world. Sure, it could slowly grow into something larger, but that seems unlikely given the industry's tendency to end a press cycle as soon as first week sales come in. That's unfortunate situation for Wale, but it is reality.
By all means buy the Wale album if you are interested in Wale or enjoy his music. But don't do so simply because you think his success will put the DMV on. Because it will not. A single release cannot sustain a scene. Support must be continuous. If you truly want to see DMV hip hop succeed you must continue to attend concerts, spread positive word about underground artists and support their projects. (And not blindly, mind you. put your money behind the music that you feel is worthy. Indiscretion and blind "support" does as much damage to a scene as indifference. Talentless hacks getting money on the strength of their zip code only makes it harder for the cream to rise.) Today is not the day to support the DMV, everyday is.