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The Beat

of Atlantic Records

Kick Game Proper

Known for a vast collection of desired footwear, the rap game’s sneaker star reveals his thoughts and visions on how ill his laced up flow is and always has been.

There are a lot of layers to Wale. The Washington, D.C. lyricist is driven by his passion for music, it’s what has gotten the Grammy-nominated spitter this far. Still as dedicated as he is in the studio, Wale also has a deep appreciation for sports and an undying love for sneakers.

It’s a constant theme that carries throughout his discography. From Wale’s 2008 "Nike Boots" single to his third solo LP The Gifted, where on the track "88" he raps about Michael Jordan and by extension the Air Jordan III's, which came out 25 years ago.

Sure, we spoke to the "Double-M Genius" about music, but once we got that out the way, it’s gotta be the shoes, right’ Design, development and decided creativity, all hand and hand to make the most of where he’d like to take this next. Sneaker brands wake up, your new executive is talking to you.

Listening to The Gifted your sound has clearly evolved, but so has your sneaker game and it’s all documented through your music. Take us back to 2008 and Nike Boots, who was Wale then?

I was a nigga that drove a Lexus - might’ve been a Maxima at that time. Yeah, and I was just a regular nigga workin’ a nine-to-five. I had my connects still, sample sales were still poppin’ then. I miss the sample sales dog. Damn, Nike needs to bring them muthafuckas back. Nike, please, please do it for the culture. Stop burning those samples man.

I never camped out, I’d pay a little extra and have someone camp out for me or somethin’ like that. I couldn’t sleep outside for no damn shoe. But you know I was always having the fly shit. I was on my SBs crazy back then, but I was always on my Nike Boots shit though.

I was looking at The Gifted album cover and I noticed that the Wale logo is still the shoelace. Do you ever think about changing it?

Yeah, I think about it all the time. I feel like it’s like, "We get it, you like sneakers." But my friends be like, "That’s dope, leave it."

Obviously the Air Jordan is a staple and always has been, but a couple years ago the Foamposites were real heavy, especially in D.C. more than a lot of places. What was your relationship with the Foams?

My favorite Foams are the Foamposite Max the original joints with the blue bubble. I copped me some off EBay, this was around the time those joints weren’t out, they hadn’t been out for years and I wore ’em on the XXL Magazine Freshman (cover). That’s when I realized that I was a different nigga, that’s when I realized that these rap niggas are really rap niggas that can rap, like they ain’t really into this shoe shit like me. They not even into this fashion shit, a lot of these niggas have stylists and all of that shit. I was like fuck that nigga I had my Louis belt, my Louis jeans, some silver Foamposite Maxes and I was just lookin’ around, niggas was wearin’ Supras and shit.

And that bothered you?

That’s cool, but I come from the sneaker world for real. I was just a nigga that can rap and it evolved into being this semi-big artist that I’ve become. I really represent that culture and I try to ensure it’s represented right and never corny and never bastardized. I almost had moments when it could’ve went either way. Like, ’Yo you should make a song for sneaker culture." And that’s cool, but it has to be done in an artistic way that’s not bastardizing it and making it super corny.

Is there real pressure to make a song like that? That love for sneakers is sprinkled so much throughout your rhymes and your music that you shouldn’t have to make a song about it. It’s always a constant.

Yeah, but I just understand the culture; and you gotta be very careful with how you represent the sneaker culture. It’s a fine line between embracing it and beasting over it.

Earlier you were talking about sample sales?

Damn, even when you say sample sale, arrrggggh [Laughs]. God, there is nothing like a sample sale, you walk in and just be like, "Oh shit."

What’s the illest joint you ever came up on in a sample sale?

Some Foams dog. My illest sample moment is probably when I had the Eggplants, like a year and a half early in the LRG joint. That was disrespectful. Niggas be so mad I wear a size 9. I’m bringin’ samples back though, don’t worry about it.

At this point you surely have a Nike connect.

I don’t really have no connects no more. A lot of my Nike dudes don’t work there no more. They work at Adidas and shit like that... Nike don’t send me nothin’. I don’t even want the stuff they send to rappers no more. They be sendin’ the celebrity packages, all the niggas be postin’ it on Instagram at the same time. Y’all ain’t shoe heads.

How could you tell? How do you pinpoint who is really about this sneaker culture?

Look at the lineage of some of these dudes, no shots, but look at the lineage. Look at their old pictures. Look at when they first came on; look at the shoes they were wearing. All of a sudden niggas is on their Foamposites heavy. Couple of niggas been doin’ it for years, for real. Like Fab, Jada, Fat Joe, but some of these niggas is with the wave. And that’s cool, but just don’t front man, I don’t like that frontin’ shit. Even (comedian) Lil Duval be on Foams now and I’m just like...

Talk about the relationship with the Foams and D.C. specifically. Everybody was rocking it, but it seems in your city Foamposites were the uniform, kind of like how Air Forces 1s were in New York.

Yeah, I’m glad you said that. It was and it is. It’s probably broken down more now because the young’ns back home are wearin’ their pants even smaller. So they wearin’ other shit, they’re gettin’ a little more creative.

But Foams were our thing and Nike would tell you that though. Nike would tell you after "Nike Boots" came out, the sales of Nike boots skyrocketed even more. And they would tell you the markets that were buying those joints the most, the Foams and the Nike boots. I’m just a product of where I come from. I got my own spin, but for the most part you see a lot of niggas dressin’ like me when I first came out.

Knowing that you have that influence, will you ever create your own sneaker?

I will one day. Yeah I can do it; I will do it. It just gotta be the right situation. I probably turned down $1.5 million in shoe contracts all together. It gotta be right. If they’re gonna do for my culture the right way and they’re gonna do for me the right way , then I’ll do it. But if it’s just the bastardized [deal], or to use my influence because I’m the shoe guy, then I ain’t gonna do it. And I can read right through it.

When the shoe companies are like, "Yo, I’ma let you do somethin’ with the YMCA, or let you do somethin’ with the Boys & Girls Club and let you do somethin’ with some of the high school teams," you talkin’ my language now... It gotta be more incentive of just rocking a sneaker.

How do you feel about the hypebeast aspect of the culture, obviously the exclusivity of a shoe makes it more appealing, but the game is about more than exclusivity, right?

I like what I like. I got a lot of GRs (general releases) that I be rockin’, I don’t care. Even like the Dunkman LeBron’s from two years ago, those were like my favorite shoes for a while. I was rockin’ those joints for like three weeks straight because I just liked it. It wasn’t an overly hyped shoe. I like some of the girl Jordans, they ain’t hyped. I rock ’em ’cause I like the color.

The whole industry is living off of retro, what has the retro craze done to the game?

Me personally when they did the Air Uptempos, the black and neon green ones, I was sick because I had got me a pair for $1,500 from Japan off some site and then they brought ’em out like six months later. I was like, "Damn." That whole wave of them bringin’ out all those ’90s shoes; that killed my collection a little bit. I had joints, I had Penny I's, II's, III's, I had all of them from before, but when they came back out it kinda devalued them a little bit. Real heads know though, at the end of the day.

Some retros are necessary though.

I’m happy they came back out with, like the T-Bugs, the zips, I like the fact that they coming back out with those because a lot of niggas sleep on those joints. The Diamond Turf II's, I feel like I had something to do with those joints coming back out because I said how much in every interview that I liked them jawns and I finally got my pair and I rocked them in the More About Nothing commercial and everybody was talkin’ about it. As a matter of fact [Nike] needed my pair; they couldn’t find them nowhere; so they asked me, "Can you mail us one of your shoes? We wanna use it [for the mold]."


So everybody who came up on some DT II's should tweet Wale and thank him.

[Laughs]. They just be doin’ wild shit like making too many colors of everything.

Well there are some retros that just make everybody happy. You got the song on the new album "88" and then you went to Flight Club in New York twice and bought 1988 Air Jordan IIIs for fans, right?

Fans, friends, myself a little bit. It was a little bit of a fan appreciation thing I was doing. I didn’t want to make it too planned out because there would’ve been a line from [Manhattan] to Queens. It was just a little somethin’ I did for fans a couple of times.

How did the idea spark in your head, did you plan it or was it on a whim?

Impulse. It’s symbolic though. The third album, the icon of Michael Jordan was born in ’88, the Jumpman was born in ’88 and we were 88% done with the album at that time. We wanted to do that for the fans, for the culture.

When you talk about making that record for the sneaker culture, "88" could be that record, no?

It might be. The "Fitted Cap" joint Ross put together on Self Made, Vol. 2, but this one is deeper, I’m telling my story. "Lost a deal, got with Will/He seen a nigga genius now my rappin’ skills on Chapel Hill/Would you U-N-C it?"

That was how I felt that day. I literally woke up that day, went downstairs, turned the beat on and started humming. And I just wrote that muthafucka, went back over to Just Blaze he put that yahmeanery on top of it and took it to another level. That’s one of the records I feel most strong about.

Do you see any new designs that you really feel strongly about? Something that can stand the test of time, like how the Jordan IIIs lasted generations?

Not yet. I thought the Hyperposites were gonna be - those are tight to me. I really, really like the Hyperposites. I don’t think they did the best job with the colorways. They didn’t sell well so they might go away.

Until Nike reads this interview.

Right, that’s how they move though.

Well, we drive the culture, but hip-hop was an untapped resource for years, would you agree?

The funny thing is rappers could sell more shoes than athletes now; with exception of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose. But for the most part, when Ross had that run with Reebok, he sold more shoes than any fuckin’ athlete in a minute. I just feel like that’s the unfortunate thing about it, why don’t more rappers get shoe deals?

You can be next.

I want to design. I want to be part of the conception of shoes, the colorways, the commercials. I want to be so hands on with the first company that I get in with. I want to talk about who we should sign to be a part of it. I want to be like, "We gonna go with Ben McLemore and we’re gonna have a campaign "Return of the Mack" and we’re gonna have a commercial with Mark Morrison and we’re gonna be in St. Louis around his way." Creative stuff like that, that’s what I want to do. It’s more than just the shoe.