Wale and superstar Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III have one integral thing in common: they both strive to be winners in competitive arenas. Penning the title track “No Pain, No Gain” for RGIII’s upcoming documentary The Will To Win, Wale connected with the uphill battle Griffin faced to overcome an ACL injury. VIBE chats with the MMG rapper about his own will to win amongst the leaders of hip-hop’s new school, as he and his peers strive to change the game.—Iyana Robertson
VIBE: How did you get involved with the RGIII: The Will To Win documentary?
Wale: Well Rob and a few people at Gatorade, you know, they selected me as somebody that they saw that can convey a message with what they were trying to do and I always want to challenge myself as a writer. And you know just getting into the zone, with Robert’s zone or where I feel like how he is right now and what he’s been going through just trying to get the word out. We’re just trying to get people to better understand where he’s at right now.
Do you have a personal relationship with Robert? How did you guys link up?
Yeah, I mean we met because of obvious reasons. But, we met on draft night at the 40/40. He was out with his family and I was already at 40/40, you know, with some of the draftees. And you know, obviously, it was a big moment for me because it was the first time our generation [that] we’ve had a quarterback, a franchised quarterback in DC you know, so that meant a lot to me to meet him and we’ve been cool ever since.
So what specifically about his story inspired the “No Pain, No Gain” track and what was the creative process behind putting it together?
I think to come back from an injury like this is something that’s plagued athletes from all over the world [...] I know what he’s going through just as his friend, just being in his inner circle knowing what he’s specifically going through. So, just to be able to relay those emotions to the people, it was a unique opportunity and as a writer myself, to be able to channel somebody else’s pain, that’s what makes us special. Tupac, Jay Z and Biggie and those guys are channeling other people’s plights in order to create music a lot of people can relate to.
The documentary is called The Will To Win. Although you don’t play a professional sport literally, hip hop is it’s own competitive sport. Do you relate to him in that sense?
Absolutely, anything I do is competitive though. I mean some people are just born like that. I want to perform to the highest level. I want to top my last one, better than my last and you know I always want to improve and I always want to work on my craft. You know whether it will be art or physical you know those are the things that are important to me.
Well, having a number one album couldn’t hurt your chances of being the best. So what does that mean for you as far as moving forward, continuing to top yourself, and continuing to be competitive against your peers?
Well it’s certainly something that I was expecting. I put a lot of work into this past album, but it’s more so [about] how that album stands in the test of time , you know, It’s more of how many people are actually discovering it because I got a long way to go. And I just hope that my fans can be the ambassadors of the Wale brand so you know I got a lot of ground to gain.
And as for competitive hip-hop, Kendrick Lamar recently crowned himself the “King of New York.” Who do you think the “King of New York” is in 2013?
Jay. That’s self explanatory. [He has] what, 13 number one albums? That’s really self explanatory.
Being the best sometimes, especially in this game today is lyrical, and it’s music, but there’s also business ventures as well. So you’ve branched out with the Wrkg Title beanie line. How are you still growing that brand, and what are you to do with Wrkg Title in the future?
I’m just trying another outlet to express my creative ideas. It’s important to be able to have balance. I just can’t be in the studio all day 24-7, not really challenging myself, so this has been a great opportunity for me to do so. And the company is growing fast, very fast, faster than I expected. So I don’t have no complaints about that I just want to continue to work hard at it and make it even bigger. So you know I’m very competitive, even if it’s with myself.
So your MMG team is setting up to release the Self Made Vol 3. compilation. What should fans expect this time around?
Everybody’s a lot busier than before obviously, but it was very important to show consistency and make sure all these three albums come out in a reasonable amount of time, you know. We don’t want too much space in between the Self Made [series]. But it’s [Rick] Ross’ brainchild. My album is my brainchild, but Self Made is Ross’ brainchild. That’s when I play my position and just hop on whatever record Ross wants me to hop on and give it my go. I let Ross coach that.
How would you describe it?
Aggressive from what I heard. Right now the playlist is at fifty something songs so Ross got to probably try to narrow it down soon.
You’re also gearing up for the “What Dreams May Come” tour with J. Cole this fall. What are you looking forward to on this tour?
I’m looking for the fans man, like this is really for them. I remember meeting Cole about four years ago in a small studio in SOHO and we’ve been just really tight ever since. And I remember I opened up for Jay Z and Pharrell about a couple of years ago and it’s just the leaps and bounds we have made in our careers and our lives. It’s really just a celebration man, like this is really a once in a lifetime kind of thing. It’s really like two friends that knew each other at the early stages of the career. We use to make fun of the state of hip-hop. We used to be like, ‘Man we could never survive in an era like this,’ ‘Nobody’s checking for real lyrics, real song structure, writing skills, and things like that, you know.’ But the tide changed somewhere along the lines and now we look and we’re doing a crazy tour. So this is really a dream come true.
You’re letting your fans decide, or have a say, in what you’re performing. How are you going to hit them with the element of surprise?
It’s different ways man, the tour in itself it’s just a whole new look for me. Like I’ve reinvented my live show, and I’m excited to show the world that too.
You tweeted that your setup for the show was "mean." Can you give any conceptual details at least?
Nope, nope. All I got to say is if you coming to show, please bring a lighter or an application to light up your phone or something. That’s all I got to say.
So have you decided on your next single, or are you going to use the poll that your fans are doing to choose it?
Well, I got a different group of fans. My fans don’t like anything that would necessarily fall into radio, so it depends of what angle I want to do. It would be nice to get the support from the core fans in the mainstream world, so maybe I might challenge the fans, maybe I might challenge them and have them push one of my records to the top. You know, if they all love something enough maybe that might be the case.
The MTV VMAs are Sunday. What are you looking forward to seeing the most?
I don’t know, I’m just disappointed I wasn’t really included in the festivities as much love as I got from MTV. I heard NSNYC is getting back together for the night, that should be interesting if you’re into that kind of stuff [laughs]. Nah, but it will be good to see Justin on stage, he’s a great performer. I don’t know, I haven’t felt that hip-hop was enough of a focal point at the VMAs so hopefully they can include a little bit more.
There’s this new school: you, Drake, Kendrick. How do you think you all will affect hip-hop in the mainstream?
Well, it’s competitive, but you know at the same time, a win for [Kendrick] is a win for me. A win for Drake is a win for me. A win for Cole is a win for me, and a win for me is a win for them in the grand scheme. But when you get to the top, it gets to be every man for himself. You know we’re bringing back the competitiveness in it. And I’m sure everybody’s sharpening their swords just like I’m sharpening mine. I’m trying to become a more competitive MC so let’s just see where it goes.
Download "No Pain, No Gain" here.
Photo Credit: Instagram