Live: Wale Brings Lots And Lots Of Friends To The Highline Ballroom


Wale
Highline Ballroom
Wednesday, November 2

Better than: watching next week, when the show will air on MySpace.

The line had packed itself six-deep, turning the long sidewalk from the Highline Ballroom to Ninth Avenue into a traffic jam of Wale fans. Or maybe just fans of events. Or maybe sheep. (Free tickets can be persuasive.) Inside, reps from Def Jam, Universal and WMG tangled around one another, laughing; there were so many Atlantic staffers, you'd think the Highline was the destination for a company field trip. In the midst of popping and locking, Hot 97 PD Ebro Darden shook Warner VP Joie Manda's hand. Not so long ago, none of these people were leaning in to kiss Wale's ring. My, how things have changed.

Rick Ross—a man who knows a thing or two about second chances—gave Wale another shot, molding the DC rapper in his image, signing Wale to his MMG label off waivers. Less the pop-driven go-go artist of yore, Wale now mostly puts out records for the strip clubs and mean-looking suburban kids. Ambition—Wale's second album, and his first under Ross' massive wing—hit store shelves on Tuesday. It's projected to sell 200,000 copies in its first week; his debut Attention: Deficit sold 70,000, total.

Wale has always wanted to be treated like a No. 1 artist, and he's acted as if it were a foregone conclusion. Last night, as Hot 97's Miss Info whispered aloud the aforementioned sales figures, it showed a huge turnaround; an affirmation, at least on Billboard. Where no one was by his side two years ago—while still signed there, Interscope wouldn't allow Lady Gaga to film on his terms for his music video for "Chillin"—now, he had a whole stage full of friends: Rick Ross, probably against doctor's orders, stuck around for the entire night, his massive chest heaving with each lyric. Seemingly in deference to Wale, he didn't touch a microphone, but he rapped just about every word, entertaining even on mute. A Unabomber-looking French Montana and a spotlight-shy Meek Mill put the floor on tilt with "Choppa Choppa Down" and "I'ma Boss," effectively stealing the show from Wale, but each at Wale's insistence. Rumors of J. Cole appearing, of Common showing up, swirled. (J. Cole had popped bottles at Wale's album release party last week.) Gunplay, a minor rapper on MMG, glued himself to one spot of the floor for the entire night, his eyes almost closed but never once blinking. Miguel, Ne-Yo, Stalley and about 30 others paraded through the stage entrances. Most never left the stage, basking in Wale's glow. It was claustrophobic. The snake of people ate its own tail, and it was sometimes hard to find Wale, even though this was supposed to be a celebration of Wale.

And a celebration it was: "Tatts on My Arm" is great, no more words needed. "Bait," a go-go-infused banger, had him doing moves out of the House Party movies, followed by a simplified Crank Dat on the choruses. For a few minutes, he was a Soul Train line unto himself. During his turn on Travis Porter's "Make It Rain," he and four of his hypemen spun around together, like NBA Jam characters doing five windmill dunks in tandem. In introducing "Fitted Cap," he had everyone hold up their shoes. (Near the end of his sets, Jay-Z famously points out who he sees in the crowd; Wale points out rarity Nikes. "I see your Hyperdunks, I see some Foamposites, Space Jams, Entourages," and on and on and on until I stopped typing, because, you know. Shoes!)

But for all of the good feelings engendered, the progress made, Wale still has some way to go. He was outshone by his guests; his stage show's not so polished, he's still a bit moody. His set list was uneven, his R&B slow jams set to pulse, the pace unforgiving. (Maybe in a different setting, where crooners stood amongst Gunplay and French Montana. Miguel was wearing spats with white socks.) Wale could be petulant, pretending to quit the night, threatening to walk back to the dressing room—but the crowd didn't get the joke; it was late, so it sort of made sense that the show would be over.

The idea behind the show—a Wale-centric Summer Jam, in November—was better in concept than in execution, but no one will remember it that way. After the show, pockets of kids chased Wale's tour bus down the street, even though its driver was just looking for a parking spot, waiting for Wale to come outside.

Critical bias: Wale said my brother and I weren't allowed to make fun of him until he was famous. Now that he's going to top the charts...

Overheard: The "M-m-m-maybach Music" audio drop seven times, which was far less than expected.

Overheard II: "MySpace is getting out of the social media game."—someone under MySpace's employ. Oh.

Random notebook dump: Funkmaster Flex hosted, warming up the crowd with his usual mix of Nas and breakbeats. And then he threw on Travis Porter's "Make It Rain." He cut it off, saying, "That's cute," before throwing on Jay-Z and Kanye's contagious "Dudes in Paris." This started Flex off: "Jay-Z will be the king, forever-ever-ever-ever-ever-ever-ever!" His voice expanded, a big bad wolf puffing his chest. He yelled at the crowd, insistent and on caps lock. Soon after, he threw on Waka Flocka's "Grove Street Party," which drove the sardine-packed room into a frenzy and negated whatever point he was trying to make. No song by Jay-Z—or by the Ruff Ryders, by Mobb Deep, by anyone, before or after—came close. Maybe Funk Flex felt the floor move, but he didn't feel the ground shift.

Set list:
Legendary
Beautiful Bliss
600 Benz
Chain Music
90210
Fuck You
White Linen (Coolin) (feat. Ne-Yo)
All I Do (a capella)
The Breakup Song
Lotus Flower Bomb (feat. Miguel)
Tatts on My Arm
Nike Boots
Black and Yellow (Remix)
Slight Work
That Way
Focused
Fitted Cap (feat. Meek Mill)
Choppa Choppa Down (feat. French Montana)
I'ma Boss (feat. Meek Mill)
Bait
Pretty Girls
Make it Rain (Remix)
No Hands
--
Ambition (feat. Meek Mill)

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