Judging by the line down the block outside NYC’s Highline Ballroom Wednesday night, Wale has no need to worry about his return to music being too under the radar. His fans are numerous, and they know all the words. Before Wale took the stage at the release party for his long-awaited sophomore release Ambition, Hot 97’s Funkmaster Flex warmed up the crowd. He said “I know what to play and when to play it,” and he certainly does.
Wale took the stage after midnight, surrounded by a flock of supporters. Maybach Music Group don Rick Ross was among them, drinking what looked like his rosé out of a clear plastic cup. He rapped along like a super proud papa. For a while he danced, adorably, as if he were at his son’s graduation. Ne-Yo was there, too, to sing his part on “White Linen (Coolin).” Hey, sexy love! When he was done, he saluted and took a bow. Year of the Gentleman forever! Miguel, dressed smart in a navy suit and shades, dutifully charmed, singing the hook on awesomely-titled “Lotus Flower Bomb.” Finally, there was Meek Mill and French Montana. People went ape shit. When Wale took off one of his cerulean and orange Nikes and lifted it up toward the crowd, people in the audience took off their own shoes, holding them up for Wale to adore. This is a new custom for me and, dressed in blah gray on gray Vans, I felt inadequate. Later, Wale danced a safari: Giddy-up moves to start, then later, reigning in a large fish.
At the end of the set, he signed a sparkly silver clutch. As they had all along, the audience hit lyrics with gusto and reached for the highs and lows on choruses. Someone who had made it to the front filmed the show’s conclusion on their iPad. That seemed cumbersome. How would they hold their sneaker up for Wale to see?