I walk up to the Highline Ballroom in dreary, rainy but somehow hot NYC weather and am incredibly surprised to see a long line, full of ornery people. When I finally inquire what the line is for, I find it its a line for people wanting to get into the concert that don’t have tickets. Apparently, these folks were unaware that the show was sold out and were hoping for a miracle. I happily kept it moving to the door and took my tickets out of my bag, thankful that I (for once) had the foresight to buy tickets to Wale’s show.
After grabbing an overpriced (I am at a venue in NYC, after all) beer at the bar, I finally look around the ballroom. I’m immediately taken back by the crowd, because they do not embody the people that you’d normally see at a hip hop show. The crowd truly resembles a United Colors of Benetton ad – all races, nationalities and types of people are here. From nerds to women resembling video vixens (and some who tried but horribly failed), to minors that snuck in to wannabe rappers, the spectrum represented here is the definition of diverse. The conversations range from what Wale will possibly perform to who’s the better rapper “Wale, Cudi or Big Sean”? I remember when that question involved “Biggie, Jay or Nas”. Oh, how the times have changed.
The lights dim, the rap music playing from the anonymous dj stops and you can no longer see the back of the ballroom due to how many bodies have packed into the venue. You can literally feel the anticipation in the room, building with every minute that passes…the lights get a little bit lower, and the show starts.
Up first is Tiara Thomas, who (once her name is said) is easily recognized by the crowd by her feature on Wale’s song “The Cloud” off his current mixtape “More About Nothing”. With nothing but herself, a microphone, a stool and a guitar, she came on stage, and began to effortlessly banter with crowd and draw them into her and her performance. While the men (and I’m sure some women too) in the crowd were obviously impressed by her beauty, the entire crowd was taken aback by her ease with the crowd and her obvious talent. A singer/rapper from Indianapolis, she performed 4 songs (1 being her own personal remix to “The Cloud”), easily seguing from one to another, keeping the crowd entertained with her talent and personal lyrics that made the crowd pay attention to her and see her as more than just an opening act. I took personal note that while her lyrics were at times, very raw, containing curse words or referencing her genitalia, she did not once seem raunchy or vulgar – just honest and real. There wasnt much crowd participation in the way of singing along with her, due to the crowd not knowing her lyrics, but she definitely sparked an interest in the NY crowd to know more about her, to hear more music from her and for that alone, she got kudos from me. Overall, I have to say, she was amazing..and I can’t wait to hear more from her and see how she will add to women in hip-hop.
Second up is the wonder-kid himself, Diggy Simmons. From the moment he comes out, he is just a ball of energy, performing songs (no show tracks here, folks..he rapped over the actual songs which isnt always the best thing at a show) at a frenetic pace. Moving from one side of the stage to another, he begins to rock the crowd and build up the level of excitement. The crowd responds to his energy by giving him love back, which makes him perform even harder. As the son of a legendary performer (and who he will always face comparison to), you can tell that he has definitely taken notes from his father on stage performance. My only thought during his quick, less than 15 minute set was if hip hop will actually take him seriously? The jury is still out on that, but its undeniable that the youngin has talent. By performing only 3 songs, he leaves the crowd wanting more – which is the sign of great artist and performer. From the time his sneaker touched the stage, you could see that he had something to prove. I think he succeeded.
So..you might as well say that DJ Omega (repping Jersey!) is the 3rd act tonight, because he’s literally on stage for a little over 30 minutes. He does a great job of mixing hip hop classics, newer songs and a little Baltimore club music, but by 9:20pm the crowd begins to get restless and starts to chant “Wale, Wale, Wale!”. There’s slight grumbling and uneasiness around me and I get scared because there’s truly no telling how these hipsters are going to react if Wale doesn’t get on the stage within ten minutes.
The legendary go-go band UCB comes out. All of the DC folks in the crowd go nuts.
With weed smoke strongly wafting in the air and UCB and DJ Omega onstage, out comes Tre of UCB singing an old El Debarge song. The crowd begins to chant Wale’s name again for a full minute..and he’s finally seen. The girls go crazy and I swear, one of them screams in my ear so loudly that I almost catch a case for punching her in the mouth. (I did not come here to lose my hearing, folks.) Wale begins the set off with “Mirror, Mirror” and immediately has the entire venue rocking. I automatically think that his album, full of what the label wanted for him, did NOT showcase him or his energy – which is more than evidence here. With the excitement level rising, he shows off his lyrical skills (which some doubters don’t think he has) by rhyming the lyrics fast (in a Twista kind of way) that brings the level of the room up another 2 notches.
Then, in a “i-bet-more-rappers-are-gonna-do-this-now” move, he solicits folks out of the crowd to film his show onstage..absolutely wonderful for those picked..and a GREAT way to piss off everyone that behind these “cameramen”.
Next up is “Award Tour”, which originally features Jazmine Sullivan. The venue’s excitement level goes up another five notches, if that’s even possible to believe. The energy here from the stage, and then back to the crowd is genuinely unbelievable and amazing all at the same time.
“Chillin”, then “Nike Boots”.
Now, Wale draws in the crowd even further, by getting emotional with them. Talking “relationship shit”, as he so eloquently puts it. “the Breakup song” is next up…the whole place puts up lighters and cell phones and raps and sings along to the tale of love gone bad. As it is something that everyone can relate to, the energy in the crowd doesn’t dim a bit.
Nice segue by Wale into “Friends and Strangers”. Its a testament to him and his amazing stage presence, that the crowd is still rocking with him at a level 7 energy level by the sixth song. Looking around, its evident that the majority of the crowd definitely knows the words from the new mixtape.
“Beautiful Bliss” is up next..and as I already suspected would happen, J.Cole comes out. His appearance (figuratively) kills the crowd, who go nuts to see him on stage with Wale. As a bonus, Cole does “Blow up” even though the crowd is screaming for “Who Dat”. NYC seems not to mind and rhymes along with him to a song that literally just came out a day or two prior. Its obvious to see, that J. Cole loves NY and NY loves him back.
Next up – “The Soup”..and my only thought is..”Good lawd, is UCB crankin right now”. The energy in this place just went up to 8.5.
After that comes a slower song now…”The Breeze”. Here is where Wale missteps with his song choice and loses some in the audience, (while, DJ Omega screaming along with the song doesn’t help either). The core fans are still hyper but the show’s energy from the crowd is currently down to a 6.5. (Now mind you, i still cant see the back of the venue, but i can hear the screaming…when the song ends.)
Wale says he has one more song to do and the crowd automatically seems angry, until they hear the beginning bars of “90210”. He says that he’s going to do a video for it, no matter the fact that its about a year too late, but with that announcement, the crowd goes nuts. They recite every word and its evident that Wale & his music resonate deep within the hipster crowd, the too cool black dudes, the cute (and not so cute) black and white and indian and spanish girls, the long island and new jersey and DMV residents, the nerds, the skater white boys, the underaged teens in here..I’m in awe of his fan base and their love of him..he truly did his NYC fans proud.
Unexpectedly, Wale’s set ends with “Pretty Girls”..and the crowd goes nuts! And with Fabolous (and his icey ass chain) coming out to rock the remix, the energy of the crowd has gone up to a damn 25 level. Wale and Fab leave the stage, but of course the crowd wants an encore. DJ Omega once again, gets the crowd to chant Wale’s name, and he reappears once more to the delight of the crowd. With a hybrid of singing/chanting/rapping “Henny for my niggas, champagne for the hoes!”~ he launches into “Black and Gold” for the fans..and this whole place is now at 40. Gotdamn. The entire venue (from the upper level to the entire packed main floor) is crazy right now. He’s rapping a capella, with the entire building singing the chorus to “black and gold”, and its obvious, he’s torn down NYC. Before leaving the stage, he signs shirts, hats, sneakers…gives the fans love. And they love him back.
Wale leaves the stage.
Congrats to him for an amazing show. I’ve learned in the past year and a half, that there are folks out there that truly detest Wale and his music. Admittedly, I didn’t particularly care too much for his 1st studio album, as I have his mixtapes. But, as much as you may not like Wale for whatever reason, there is NO denying his talent. His stage presence, the love he genuinely has for the music and the love his fans give him back, there is no arguing that he puts on an amazing show either. I believe that the only one that can truly stop him is himself. He has to stay in his niche of his particular blend of go-go and hip-hop (instead of giving the label what they want)..and in it, he will succeed, gain more fans, more recognition and rock even bigger shows. I look forward to seeing that happen.
I finally leave the Highline Ballroom at 11:02pm.