When Rappers Attack: Here’s Why Wale Lost More Than His Cool With Complex (Food For Thought)
You never forget it when public figures lash out.
As a sports-obsessed kid, I recall ‘90s NFL Quarterback Jim Everett flipping a table and lunging for Jim Rome after the always-salacious button-pusher (calling him Chrissy, a female tennis player with a similar last name) did just that. Then there was Burt Reynolds giving Howard Stern “Wack Pack” alum Stuttering John the Suga Free treatment (a slap) at one red carpet event. Stuttering John, like Rome, had a reputation for scoring laughs on celebs, always at their expense.
In Hip-Hop, this also happens, going back to the days of Dr. Dre’s conviction for assaulting “Pump It Up” host Dee Barnes in response to an interview with ex-N.W.A. member Ice Cube. The incident cemented Dre’s bad boy reputation as seen in videos non-fiction, and landed him on house arrest during the pre-production of The Chronic. Two years and some change later, the Wu-Tang Clan allegedly threatened The Source’s Cheo Coker (now a Hollywood screenwriter) to keep their threats against the Notorious B.I.G. off the record. More recently, DJ Vlad, a former mixtape leader who now runs VladTV.com, stepped to Rick Ross at an event and inquired about the Maybach Music Group honcho’s veiled former life as a corrections officer. Ross (or his entourage, alleged later reports), attacked Vlad, prompting a reported six-figure settlement to follow. Turning the tables on the media (or in Everett’s case, flipping them), is nothing new—especially in Rap. But is it ever really justified?
One of Ross’ artists, Wale, got himself in this spotlight two days ago. The artist with #1 albums and a track record that includes work with Lady Gaga, Rihanna, as well as 9th Wonder, stepped to Complex.com, after feeling deliberately left off the publication’s lists. The traffic giant published their annual Top 50 Albums of the year, and omitted Wale’s third LP, The Gifted—the rapper’s first #1 on the charts.
“Do you think y’all being a responsible publication by continuously to fuckin’ like…do all that petty shit,” Wale said in a taped phone conversation to the magazine’s Associate Editor Insanul “Inclin” Ahmed. “At this point, you know it’s got to be personal. You tellin’ me it’s not personal is like a bold face lie. To be omitted from every type of list that y’all do or be at the bottom of it or every type of way that y’all can omit me, y’all will.”
The former Interscope Records hopeful brought in some of his peers. “You mean to tell me Juicy J’s [Stay Trippy] is better than mine?”
He continued, “Boy, don’t play me, man. I came at you civil right now, but it can go completely in another direction. Right now, respect me, dog. Respect me, dog.”
Then, Wale threatened the team physically. “You know it’s disrespect. I swear to God I’ll come to that office and start knocking niggas the fuck out. Y’all wanna see some ghetto ignorant shit? That’s what y’all promote. That’s the only thing y’all promote from niggas.”
“I’ll see y’all tomorrow,” Wale promised. “How about that? Get the security ready.”
This incident was later followed up with Wale in an Instagram post, claiming he’s “cool” with Complex staffers. However, with the conversation gone public (and kind of viral), the fodder hit the fan.
Talking to old Source writers, you’ll hear stories of groups like Cypress Hill and The Fugees coming to the office with a vendetta, based on album review ratings, or the magazine declining press. However, in the ‘90s—sometimes legends outsize what really happened. Often times, not. But Wale broke the fourth wall, and showed just how much it meant to him to be included (or rather, to not feel excluded).
In my own career working with rappers, I’ve had my encounters. Over a decade ago, I had a cantankerous, high-profile Wu-Tang Clan member once tell me—in the middle of a Q&A—that Rap journalists belonged at the ocean floor, in a dumpster. Even before that, I had a short-lived Death Row Records hopeful threaten me after reading an article online that was originally purposed for print—a testament to perhaps both his status and my writing at the time. In the middle of a 2007 video interview, I once watched a multi-platinum Atlantic Records flagship artist demand that the cameras be turned off, as he threatened to “slap the smile off” the face of a writer who asked him a question, and followed it with “no homo.”
Who’s to blame in these instances? Are rappers getting pettier, or is there a responsibility to own every step of our collective digital footprints?
My own opinion is that threatening a writer, staff or publication is never the answer. Wale’s had problems with a litany of peers—including Kid Cudi and Sir Michael Rocks, and later recanted. The Washington, D.C. area MC has a propensity for seeing himself in a magnified mirror. For every “Nike Boots” or “Ambition”—amazing, uplifting songs that sound like no other artist out in their time or after, there is a rant, a temper tantrum, or a Twitter diatribe that gets in the way.
In 2009, opening up for Jay Z on the Blueprint III Tour, I watched Wale chuck a bottle (think David Garrard) into the crowd at a Baltimore, Maryland arena. The plastic object hit a young woman on the head and knocked her over, and Wale, in true Randy Watson form (Coming To America), stamped and stormed off the stage. We all saw the Toronto Raptors “he’s no Drake” incident. An artist who made some of the best mixtapes of the 2000s, constantly pulls it away from the music—and makes it something else. A mind and mouth as talented as that of Olubowale Victor Akintimehin should know better.
One of my closest friends loves to tell me the story of Jay-Z opening up for KRS-One in Eastern Pennsylvania in the mid-1990s. A crowd full of Heads waiting for The Teacha boo’d the fast-rapping MC who had tales of “Dead Presidents” and “22 Two’s.” Before the Def Jam distribution, Jay pushed on. From his days with Jaz-O and Big Daddy Kane, the rapper, with a bruised ego, refused to end early. Years later, Jay came back—again, and again, and again, and again over time. Little by little, the MC inevitably won over his doubters—as he had to do in many cities and markets. Today, there’s a story there of a short-sighted audience and an artist who wouldn’t give up.
Wale should take note. He is premature in expecting minds to change. This weekend, Sean Price, who once rapped “I don’t Wale with you new niggas,” defended the Atlantic Records-backed rapper and The Gifted. To Ruck, the album deserved to be in the Top 50—especially in place of some of those selected. Others, myself included, may find 50 other albums before that one (Ambition, however, was one of my absolute favorites of 2011). But, that’s okay. “Reality” is all relative, and it’s all subjective.
Did Jim Rome deserve his? Would Stephen A. Smith talk so recklessly about the Detroit Pistons
if Rick Mahorn and Bill Lambeer were still in the NBA? At a time when a clever diss or heartless attack on somebody typically yields retweets and expanded (albeit often short-lived) social influence, the universe needs its own system of checks and balances. However, an honest, respectfully asked question, a subjective editorial list, or somebody’s presented opinion should never equate to threats of violence.
More than that, Wale never went to Complex. Security really wasn’t needed. It was the ugly break-up and the get back together tomorrow move. Wale’s promises were impassioned talk, but just that. Isn’t that what dilutes the Rap music (and/or rappers) of today versus the KRS’s, the Chuck D’s, the Above The Law’s? Right or wrong, they usually met their promises. Today, we just press our noses to the glass, lock our doors and wait. And nothing happens.
Ten years after that interview, I never bought another copy of that Wu-Tang Clan member’s albums. I wasn’t hurt or holding a grudge, I just really didn’t care. That Death Row artist, his lone album was also never something I felt the need to support, despite a strong interest in its day. I’ve heard other writers, fans, and Heads that could never go forward with the listener-artist relationship fantasy after a bad encounter. My own father once got into it with singer-songwriter James Taylor at a concert in the early ‘70s. When “Carolina In My Mind” hits the radio and we’re in the car together, the sixty-something year-old man always reaches for the seek button. Bad experiences get in the way of art doing its job.
At a critical juncture in his career, with lofty goals and self-image, Wale might win some, but he just lost one.