In the eight months since dropping his critically lauded, "Seinfeld"-themed, "Mixtape About Nothing," Washington, D.C.'s, Wale has emerged as one of the leading lights of hip-hop's rapidly rising Generation Y -- with Jay-Z and Leonardo DiCaprio even taking in last month's show at New York's Highline Ballroom.
Judging from his bravura performance Thursday night at the Key Club, the buzz around the Interscope-signed phenom is absolutely warranted.
If anything, Wale's set veered closer to coronation, with Left Coast legends Warren G and Xzibit, along with label mate and Dr. Dre protege Bishop Lamont popping up on stage to lend their support to the 24-year-old. Even Sean "Diddy" Combs Twittered a message on Thursday, reminding fellow Tweeters not to skip Wale's show. Not bad for a guy without as much as an officially released album.
Such are the vagaries of the new rap landscape, with Wale's four mixtapes sufficient to instill an air of breathlessness among the sold-out crowd. Backed by his nine-piece go-go band UCB, plus hype man, Wale didn't disappoint, cycling through cuts including "The Artistic Integrity," "Back in the Go-Go" and "W.A.L.E.- D.A.N.C.E."
Wale tantalized the adoring audience with two tunes from his yet-untitled upcoming debut, and the punch-line-heavy, zeitgeist-appropriate songs augur well for Wale's chances of crossover success. Though his most recent mixtape's two standout tracks, "The Perfect Plan" and "The Kramer," were conspicuously absent, both heavily introspective tunes would've understandably dampened the ebullience of his more party-friendly live material.
During the performance, Wale represented for his oft-slighted hometown, shouting out the Redskins and tutoring the crowd on the history of the city's go-go genre -- a fusion of funk, soul, calypso and African music -- citing the Junkyard Band's "Sardines and Pork & Beans" and E.U.'s "Da Butt," among others.
The bronze rain of the horn section of his band and its African hand-drum polyrhythms occupied the middle ground between the prog-funk of Nigerian Afro-beat and the neo-soul coffee shop bohemianism of the Roots.
With that group having recently announced its retirement from touring to be the house band on NBC's "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon," it's reassuring to know that a suitable replacement is ready.
L.A. native son Blu delivered a dazzling opening set as well. Backed by MPC maestro Exile, the San Pedro-raised rapper leaned heavily on material from the duo's 2007 subterranean classic, "Below the Heavens."
Displaying a stoner's affability and effortless cool, Blu's on-stage presence split the difference between Redman and Talib Kweli.