Wale's Freshman Party

Wale's Freshman Party
Washington, DC's Wale (né Olubowale Folarin) had cultivated a diehard fan base and critical hoopla through a handful of whip-smart downloadable mix-discs, most notably 2008's Seinfeld-themed The Mixtape About Nothing, enough to score the 25-year-old an opening slot on Jay-Z's current tour. But in effort to expand the Wale brand (his word), the rapper hired Lady Gaga for "Chillin'," the poppy lead single for his proper debut, Attention Deficit. For a guy who grew up transcribing the lyrics to A Tribe Called Quest's "Electric Relaxation," the song is an overt grasp for radio spins.

"Lady Gaga is the popular chick at school, and I'm the new guy. So at the new guy's party, you gotta get the most popular girl to be the voice for you and promote it," explains Wale, who also invites the wise senior (Bun B), the dealer (Gucci Mane) and the cool exchange student (K'naan) to help trash his folks' living room. "Then, when they hear the album, it's like, 'Damn. This guy has a lot to offer. He's gonna be around for a while.'"

Yet it's album cuts that deal with the Nigerian-American's skin issues, or plunk him in the mindset of a young, black girl and a fame-chasing Cali chick that are the reasons to linger past midnight. "It's a big deal for hip-hop, a young person doing the kind of music I make," Wale says. "That's what an album is supposed to be: Who are you? Why should we care?"