Wale at Lollapalooza 2012 | Photos and music review
When I rolled up to the Google Play stage, I was excited. Instead of a Macbook or turntables at center stage, I saw a full band, amply stacked with two keyboardists, a percussionist, all the trimmings. "Finally," I thought, "Wale has landed on an aesthetic. This will be awesome." Fifteen minutes late, in true rich emcee fashion, Wale graced us with his presence.
And it was awesome. For about half a song. Midway through his first tune, after stumbling slightly through a few bars, Wale pulled the ultimate diva card and cut the number short. "Son, this is Lollapalooza," he said to the sound guy. "We ain't at no high school prom, man. I understand this isn't a hip-hop festival, but we're professionals!" Nice.
Now, I've seen this happen a few times. Most notably was Broken Social Scene a few years back, when Kevin Drew cut a seemingly flawless performance short to "have a conversation with (his) drummer" offstage, only to start the song over again. This certainly wasn't as audacious, but it came close. When he pulled the plug again during his second song, actually leading his riveted audience in a chant to turn his mic up, we had breached new territory. Clearly, that Maybach Music sample has gone to his dreads.
Things got worse from there. While the first few songs were excellent if you discredit the stops (old school cut "Nike Boots" was fantastic with the live band), Wale quickly traded his musicians for standard laptop fare. The band stopped playing, and he rapped over a track for a few tunes. And his band just stood there, onstage, like this was a cool idea. Ross, I hope you paid those men up front.
Now, most notably, Wale's crowd was among the most enthralled I'd seen all day. I expected his competing headliners (Bassnectar, Black Keys and a truly incredible Black Sabbath) to eclipse Wale entirely. Not so. Part of this was the result of a long day's work, which festival attendance truly is, resulting in a need to blow off a surplus of steam. But Wale had the crowd in the palm of his hand with his band, and he still stooped to bullshit club rap, covering "Rack City" without a visible shred of shame. A hip-hop set with true breakthrough potential was thrown by the wayside, all so Wale could pander his way into the land of the consummately convoluted.
I can't speak one way or another about his set; that's how all over the place it was. Do we blame Rick Ross for the rebranding? Do we blame a frustrated career of knapsack rap turned radio emcee (courtesy Ross)? Or is it just a festival, and I shouldn't take it so seriously? Probably all of the above. Either way, if you watched a minute of this over Sabbath, welcome to Club Dingus. Tallboys are eight bucks.