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Wale Carried Backpack Rap on His Back at House of Blues Last Night

Wale With Audio Push, Bizzy Crook and Chaz French House of Blues, Dallas Wednesday, February 4, 2015

On the new mixtape Festivus, produced by world-renowned Canadian DJ A-Trak, Wale makes no attempt to hide his hubris: The D.C. rapper repeats his own name 15 times on the intro to the song "Stroke of Genius." You could say he's too into himself. Of course, in the rap game your fan base dictates your relevance, so unabashed self-promotion is paramount. Or maybe it could just be that Wale wants your backpack rap-loving friends to quit pronouncing his name WALL-E.

But when he hit the stage at House of Blues last night, Wale cut straight through the bullshit: "I'm an MC and I believe in hip-hop", he declared, and got right down to business.

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That sort of assertiveness was perhaps necessary after a series of opening acts that left the energy in the room a little flat. The earliest acts offered up some pretty pedestrian trap music and the sound system was so impossibly low that the loud chatter of the patrons just about drowned it all out anyway. Rappers Bizzy Crook and Chaz French did their best to get the crowd to stop checking their Instagram and "turn up," but only Audio Push, with a lyrical tag-team reminiscent of the Clipse, managed to get the energy going.

By contrast, Wale was like an imposing force. Unlike his tour mates, Wale's set featured a full backing band, which included a highly capable bassist, jazz keyboardist and drummer who seems to play as effortless as Questlove. In fact, the on-stage talent didn't seem too dissimilar to what genre-pushing artist D'Angelo would have touring with him, and clearly Wale doesn't want to rap to a pre-recorded track like all too many rappers out there do.

After campaigns like "#nodaysoff" and a recurring theme of work in his songs, Wale sets himself apart from modern day rap artists that you'd hear on 104.5 or BET, but he still somehow fits neatly within that mold. The band with Wale at the helm played tight and smooth until the emcee admitted that his voice is going out (which it nearly did). He keeps going though because he wouldn't want the audience to feel like he wasn't giving it 110 percent.

Wale, who started off in the world of mixtapes, has come full-circle, embracing his roots while at the same time garnering a loyal fan base through touring. His popularity no doubt has something to do with Maybach Music Group label-owner Rick Ross, but Wale isn't trying to ride his fellow rapper's coattails either. (At one point, a woman in the crowd even shouted out, "Maybach Music!") At the age of 30, the rapper born Olubowale Victor Akintimehin is as hungry as ever and wants to prove that he has something more to offer than his contemporaries. Giving it 110 percent is almost a given.

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Wale knows how to put on a show and it doesn't hurt that he raps about more relevant things than money and drugs. He's versatile, too, even testing his singing chops between the bass-heavy song "Loyalty" and "Girls on Drugs," and he did his best to pull the audience into the show. He went so far as to rap into the crowd, on top of the sound booth and at one point he even performed two songs on the balcony. It was great entertainment.

In some circles, Wale may be considered a third-tier rapper, but his bold bravado shoots him past the musical quality of his label owner. His conscious, radio-friendly rap may not earn him the cred of a Jay Z or Yeezy, but his showmanship alone should make him one of the best in the game.


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