Before there were record contracts and tours for Wale, there was football. The Washington DC-based rapper, who is omnipresent at Washington Wizards games and is a devout Redskins fan, aspired to carry a football for an NFL team long before his music became known to millions of fans. “Every August, I still get this feeling. It feels like you can smell the grass being cut. At 7:00 a.m., you feel like your men are up with you, ready to go out and stretch. I miss those moments dearly.”
As a standout high school football player, Wale (known offstage as Ralph Forlain) attracted scholarship offers before settling on a scholarship with Robert Morris University, where he became a running back and wide receiver. After redshirting and playing with Robert Morris for one season, he transferred to Virginia State University. After leaving school, he left football behind and the rest is music history.
But despite hanging up the shoulder pads, the football mentality has never left him. “When I was in high school, I was a wedge buster on kickoffs,’ Wale says. “My coach wanted me to play with reckless abandon. I lived to make big hits in front of the other team’s bench. I always wanted people to know where number 2 was.”
It’s that mentality, Wale feels, that has given the rapper a bad rap. “I treat the music game like sports,” he says. “I’m competitive. I have to win. I’m even superstitious at times. Those feelings haven’t left me. I bring them into the recording process.” On June 25th, with his new album The Gifted making its debut, you will see Wale’s competitiveness. “I’m not going to say anything about it,” he says, much the way an athlete relies on his performance. “The music will speak for itself.”
Until you can hear the music for yourself, you are likely to see Wale around Washington DC, taking in a rapidly growing sports scene. “I’m a huge supporter of DC sports,” he says. “There’s a unity growing with John Wall on the Wizards, RG III and the Redskins, Strasburg and the Nationals. The Capitals are coming on. You can feel something special happening here. Whenever the Wizards or Redskins ask me to do anything, I’m always there for them.”
As the sports and music scene continue to crossover, Wale sees a third industry converging in pop culture—fashion. “Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are friends of mine. I was so proud to see them at NBA All-Star Weekend, the fashion risks they are taking. Players like them and LeBron James are spearheading athletes and their transition into fashion. I mean, you had guys like Joe Namath wearing fur coats on the sidelines. But for it to be more consistent in the culture, you see it so much more. We’ve gone from Brett Favre wearing t-shirts and Wranglers to Colin Kaepernick wearing a sharp, fitted new suit. You’ve gone from cheap suits on big bulky guys to LeBron James wearing leather sweatpants.”
Wale’s own contribution to fashion includes a new hat line that will debut this fall. “It’s my baby,” he says. “People are familiar with the beanie line I’ve had, but the new hat line will have eight new designs for men and women. It will really represent who I am.” And how can we be sure that it truly represents Wale? “Don’t worry,” he says. “It will have a Washington Redskins color in every hat.”