Arts Desk

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.

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  • Jason

    See also the entire DC hardcore/punk whatever scene.

    Regardless of what you think about it musically, members of that community worked to build the scene. They released records to document the music that they and their friends were making. They were willing to stay in the community and build the local music scene, and in some cases worked hard to create a career in the community.

    In contrast, "putting the DMV on" has little to do with "the DMV". It's about local rappers using community support to further their own careers and leaving town as soon as they get a modicum of success, then expecting the community to support them again after the star has faded.

  • Sonya

    I agree with the last paragraph of Jason's comment 100%. After months and months of featuring indie rappers on my site and attending showcases/concerts/ciphers/release parties/listening parties/video shoots, I still believe that only a select few will attain the same amount of success or greater than Wale. With the DMV Hip Hop scene having even smaller niche markets within, it's very difficult for there to be REAL unity within that community (READ: With the DMV being so small, all rappers who are active within all local sub-scenes should know about each other.

    Now if you're ok with being a big fish in a small pond (DC), cool. However, if you plan to be the big fish in the big pond (DC and far beyond) and maintain that status, you have to give people a reason to continually support you. Another solution to this would be pride, much of which the area has been stripped. Not to mention, the great migration of residents not native to the region throughout the years. A lot of us don't know who we are anymore. I know many will debate that, however it's hard to create a scene that could truly stand up to any other when we are guilty of two things:

    1. The infamous "crabs in a barrel" mentality (if you're Black and grew up here from age 2 it's in you. Acknowledge it, embrace it and then let it go)

    2. Lack of pride (due to a diminished working class) for what has already existed here and what we've produced throughout the decades. Most of DC's indigenous population lives in the burbs now and we have now become a city of trend following and copycats. With all that going on, it's become harder for the prideful natives to be heard and respected. Likewise, those who have the true talent skip town because they don't want to be bothered with a place that isn't conducive to their work.

  • reallyreal

    It's not that dude hasn't put in work, it's probably more an issue with the quality of said work. I'd hate to have the hopes of an entire region of rappers on my shoulders. DMV has a lot of talent, I hope this doesn't steal any shine away. Check these guys out. The Hip Hop Digest Show out of DC.

  • DrSarcasm

    I love DC. It's such a supportive town. Everyone is really happy when their peers are successful. There's never any bitterness or jealousy that manifests itself as criticism.

    Also, DC is GREAT at producing national talent. It unites behind one artist cause people understand that it's all for one and one for all. It's such a tight knit community!

    And Jason, I can't think of ONE WAY in which the guys behind Dischord records are in any different then the young rappers of today. Not even one. That's a direct parallel as far as I'm concerned! Great point!

    And Andrew, my hat is off to you for considering being positive about Wale. That's sweet that someone of your position would consider it! I'm really glad you thought better of it though. I know that it's important for people of your stature not to appear tobe in bed with popular trends. I hear the guys at PGC and WKYS were thinking along the same lines as you. Great minds think alike right?

    And finally, I am sure that Wale has never done anything positiv for the district. Like when he performed with a GoGo band for the last year on national and international tours and on gigantic awards shows. I know that didn't help anybody but Wale! What a selfish guy for shouting out his hometown as much as he does too. I'm sure that's just a calculated ploy to make sure people know where he's from. So they can send him presents probably. What a jerk!

    Thank again City Paper, now I know why you guys have broken so many artists over the years.

    Much Love,
    Dr. S.