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Wale on How Love, Healing and Friends Like Lena Waithe and Issa Rae Inspired ‘Wow … That’s Crazy’

Janee Bolden

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Wale is inspired. In a conversation with Variety, just a week after the release of his sixth studio album, “Wow… That’s Crazy,” the veteran rapper is opening up about the influences on the project — of which there are many.

The album, his first for Warner Records, features collaborations with everyone from Kelly Price (“Sue Me”) to longtime MMG cohorts Rick Ross and Meek Mill (“Routine”) as well as plenty of modern R&B mainstays, such as Bryson Tiller, Jacquees, Ari Lennox, 6lack, Pink Sweat$ and Jeremih, whose contribution, “On Chill” is currently #7 on the Top 200 chart — and there’s also a duet with Houston rap hottie Megan Thee Stallion, “Poledancer.”

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Wale is highly in tune with current state of affairs, whether it’s music, film, TV or politics, right down to his decision to title the project, “Wow… That’s Crazy.” And while the Washington, DC native has been waxing poetically about pop culture, love, sex, materialism and success since he began dropping mixtapes nearly 15 years ago, he says this album is different.

“Hands down, this is my most personal project,” says Wale. “Somebody told me the other day that this is a beautiful, healing album, and it’s the beginning stages of healing from black trauma. It’s unapologetically black, but it’s also a healing — the good and bad that comes from all the sh– that comes from being a black man or a black woman in America.”

Traces of his own journey to healing are evident throughout the project. In the intro to “Set You Free,” Wale notes, “Picture that, a black man learning to love himself… Wow, that’s crazy, right?”

“It’s hard to love yourself when you’ve been famous for almost half your life and put so much merit in other people’s appreciation of you …” he says, before adding, “… or lack thereof, when you’re not being appreciated by the same people who made you, essentially. It’s easy to fall out of love with yourself.”

Love and self-love are running themes throughout the project and his muses are many, with actresses like Issa Rae (who announced her own record label through Atlantic last week), Taraji P. Henson, Logan Browning earning mentions, alongside his friend, writer and actress Lena Waithe, who he credits for helping lay the foundation for “Wow… That’s Crazy.”

“There’s a line, I believe it might have been in the season premiere of ‘The Chi,’ that says, ‘Therapy is for white people,’” Wale says. “It reminded me of the way we think as a people, and inspired me to get on my writing. I was bothering Lena a lot though. One day I was in the gym like, ‘I wonder what her favorite movie is,’ so I asked her and she said ‘Love Jones’ and ‘When Harry Met Sally,’ and I damn sure watched both those movies the next day. I love like being able to call people that I respect, like Taraji or Issa or whoever and get inspiration from non-music people. I was even asking Judd Apatow questions that he didn’t even know how I was applying, like about delivering tone and stuff like that.”

Another prominent influence is Nina Simone, who Wale references multiple times on the project and samples on “Love Me Nina / Semiautomatic.”

“I was really inspired by [the 2015 Netflix documentary ‘What Happened, Miss Simone?’],” says Wale. “I was reminiscing on certain things and the parallels of the time and what she was going through, and what I go through and we as a people. Again, it’s all part of that healing narrative of where the album is, and the trauma and the times that are changing now that are almost identical in some ways to what they were going through back then. “

The track is one of the most political for Wale, who acknowledges he was trying to speak from the mountaintop without coming off contrived.

“The first thing you can read in the morning is how trash our president is and what black person was killed today,” Wale says. “That’s enough to make anybody go crazy or be seeking therapy. Anybody can be triggered at 8:30 in the morning. We just seen a black woman gunned down by a police [Atatiana Jefferson in Texas], this keeps happening and it’s almost like we’re desensitized. They’re going to do it so much until the whole world is desensitized and it’s just like rain: just something normal.”

With that state of affairs as a new normal, it’s easy to see why the title “Wow… That’s Crazy” is one of the only ways to sum up hurt, trauma, self-love and healing. It’s a journey Wale is hoping others will join him on.

“It’s an uphill battle, but I want to get it in everyone’s hands,” he says. “The hip-hop purists have embraced it, but now it’s time to make sure the casual music fans get it too.”

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