Wale has always been a consummate performer. That’s due in large part to his large heart, which he wears on his sleeve — for better or worse. As he took the stage at The Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles on Wednesday night for the LA stop of his Wow… That’s Crazy Tour — named for his recently-released album with the same title — it occurred to me that the reason he’s such a great performer is very much because he lets his emotions show. They aren’t just part of who he is… they are who he is. That makes him every bit as genuine, warm, inviting, and entertaining in person as he is on record. These qualities might make him the perfect target for online trolls, but they also make him one of the best performers in hip-hop today.
None of Wale’s aforementioned sincerity would mean a thing if he didn’t have the catalog to back it up. It’s a good thing for him he has one of the most extensive, expressive, and underrated discographies of post-blog era rap. You can attribute that to his veteran of blog era status, as he’s had a decade to learn what works and what doesn’t. What works is how his hits have the ability to sneak up on audiences who are both awestruck and delighted to hear favorites like “The Matrimony” and “Diced Pineapples” blare out of the speakers, even as Wale works his way through a mostly impromptu set list of songs from his latest album. He almost seems to surprise himself at times, looking a little impressed and astonished himself, like, “I made that?”
He never even has to dig that deep into his bag to evoke this reaction. While Wow… That’s Crazy already boasts a thorough setlist in itself — “On Chill,” “Love… (Her Fault),” “Poledancer,” and “BGM” seem to ring off the most, the latter after an adorable onstage moment between Wale and a young fan from the front row celebrating her birthday — Wale has built himself a spacious playground to frolic in. Songs from Shine (“My PYT”), The Album About Nothing (“The White Shoes,” “The Matrimony”), and even Ambition (“Illest Bitch,” “That Way”) all pop up throughout the set, which Wale sneaks downstage to discuss with his DJ on the fly. It was a little disappointing not to hear many songs from those early mixtape days, but that just goes to show just how many hits Wale has at his disposal.
Speaking of his DJ, DJ Money — the man was on fire Wednesday night. His warmup set which was punctuated by both poignant hits from Wale’s MMG crew (Meek Mill’s “Dreams & Nightmares Intro”) and classic and contemporary R&B staples (Rose Royce’s “I’m Going Down,” Keyshia Cole’s “Love,” and more) that provoked a singalong with the entire audience. The energy was matched again later during Wale’s set when Wale and Money surprised the crowd with appearances from guest vocalists 6lack, who appeared from backstage mid-FaceTime call with Wale to perform fan-favorite album track “Expectations.” Local star Eric Bellinger also popped out to perform their deep cut “Right Here” from Wale’s 2018 Free Lunch EP. Wale’s exuberance at each guest’s appearance turned out to be infectious, spreading to the entire crowd, while his genuine affection for each shone to the back of the crowded auditorium.
That warmth was and is the defining characteristic of Wale’s live show. The first time I saw him way back in 2009 at a local college festival, he backed by a band from his DC hometown and projected optimism about his seemingly sunny career path as he rapped cuts from his mixtapes. Now, a decade later, he’s gone through enough career transitions to scare most young artists into quitting outright, taken bruises and bumps along the way, and acquired a more weathered outlook. He never lost that warmth though. Through the ups and downs, he’s still the same witty, self-aware, optimistic artist under it all. Now… that’s crazy.
Wale is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.