Review: Rapper Wale turns up the McDonald Theater on his Simply Nothing Tour
The turn up was real on Saturday night as Washington, D.C. rapper Wale took the stage at the McDonald Theatre at about 10:30 p.m. during his Simply Nothing Tour, promoting the upcoming release of his record, The Album About Nothing.
Wale’s music is a mix of soulful, percussion driven and lyrical romance songs that could easily be the slow dance standards of today’s clubs, like his song “The Body,” and aggressive, hard hitting hip-hop that calls the audience not only to their feet, but to the air, jumping with the beat. Although the performance displayed just about every trope of today’s rap giants (and the ridiculous bravado that comes along with them), Wale presented himself seriously and ensured Eugene felt his passion for the party.
Audio Push, a duo of rappers Oktane and Pricetag from Inland Empire, California (most famous for their 2009 hit that inspired the dance style Jerkin’, “Teach Me How To Jerk“) was the night’s most notable opener. Their high energy beats were matched by their high energy stage antics and rapping skills. Both displayed an undeniably skillful flow, taking turns at the mic and getting the crowd riled up.
“Who got the flame?” Oktane asked the crowd as he looked for someone to light a joint for him. “I need a lighter! If you got the tree, light it up!” he yelled out. The group played their new single “Quick Fast” which features Wale, a powerful hit that exclaims unapologetically what the group is about: money, rapping and yes – purple drank.
As Wale, a 30-year-old Nigerian American whose real name is Olubowale Victor Akintimehin, took the stage, it came as somewhat of a surprise to see real musicians begin playing: a keyboardist on one side of the stage began a smooth melody, a bassist on the other side joined in and a drummer brought them all together. (The musicians later appeared to be mostly props; the keyboardist sat for most of the set with his hands in his lap and the bassist was mostly chewing gum and fist pumping.)
A sound bite of Jerry Seinfeld began playing, leading Wale in as he ran on stage. “My only fear is mediocrity,” Wale said. Apparently Seinfeld and Wale are actually good friends. “I cannot believe you were not in the top-10!” Seinfeld says to Wale during an interview they did together for Complex, referring to Wale’s now famous angry phone call threatening Complex’s staff because his album, The Gifted, didn’t make it into their top 50 list. “It’s fine,” Wale says under his breath.
As the set progressed, Wale became more animated and involved with the crowd. At first he came on stage dressed in a black coat, black t-shirt, black jeans and sneakers, his trademark dreadlocks hidden away beneath a Rastacap. A few songs later, the jacket and hat were gone, and Wale lit a joint of his own.
“Turn the fuck up, Eugene,” he said, and the crowd reacted with cheers and their own plumes of smoke. Then he played “Friendship Heights,” the chorus of which is sung, “I always fall for bitches like you. I can’t help myself.”
Wale is good at doing what he wants to do. He isn’t trying to make conscious or so-called “intelligent” rap the likes of Nas or Mos Def; his music is about the other parts of life that are just as powerful for him – women, haters, partying, his role models, his past. And, the narrative of “I just do me” is what the audience wanted. The Album About Nothing is clearly not about nothing – it’s about whatever Wale wants.
Many of the fans knew his music well and enjoy his maverick attitude on life. “I like his flow,” University of Oregon senior Josh Higbee said. “Like when you’re listening to him you just nod your head and stuff like that.”
Another university student, Taylor Camelio, said he was attending the concert as part of a class project on race and hip-hop in Eugene. When asked if he’d learned anything so far he said, “I’m noticing the crowd is pretty white, but that’s expected in Eugene.” What was also expected was the body shaking bass and pumped up verses from Wale; the crowd got what they wanted. And, Wale, always asking for the turn up, seemed to get his too.
Follow Gordon Friedman at @gordonrfriedman
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