EXCLUSIVE: Wale speaks to Helen Herimbi about joining Kwesta to capture the platinum ‘Spirit’ of collaboration

Olubowale Akintimehin sounds a little under the weather. The Nigerian-American rapper who you may simply know as Wale is speaking to me on the phone from Maryland in America and he sounds like he has a frog in his throat.

“It’s actually really cold here,” he tells me after a cough that stopped him mid-sentence. He’s telling me about how excited he is to be making his way to Johannesburg this weekend to perform a few shows with Kwesta, presented by Heineken. He is adamant that the cold won’t stand in his way: “I’ll definitely be there. I can’t miss that experience.”

By now, you’ve heard the chart-topping Spirit, by Kwesta, featuring Wale. While it has been compared to the song of 2016, Ngud, Spirit is one of Kwesta’s most successful singles. It went platinum in just a month. Wale chalks this feat up to keeping the tune authentically African.

He tells me: “In my opinion, I always want to take it back the African roots. We’re both African, some good artists with a nice fanbase. All of that together can be (something that creates) platinum.”

The pair of artists first started speaking when Maybach Music Group associate, Luyanda “Lu” Mgengwane, connected them. “The dialogue was born on the phone and it came from my guy Lu,” says Wale.

“They sent the Spirit record over. We went back and forth, Kwesta sent me some notes and then I went into the studio and that was it. We definitely started with a nice conversation and with (me)checking out his music.”

Kwesta elaborates on the notes he gave Wale: “I’ve always been a big fan of Wale and how he writes and his approach is very poetic. “Yes, I had a few notes for him. It was literally just to break down what the song is about word for word so the back and forth was really so he understood what we were talking about.”

“The message of the song is simple. It’s a very aspirational and inspirational song. It’s about having the spirit to be whatever you want to be and not allowing anything to stop you. It’s about being relentless.”

On Spirit, Wale raps: Land in Lasgidi on the way to Surulere. So I ask him what his plans are when he makes that a reality. “My father is back in Nigeria and I really wanted the world to embrace African culture,” he explains. “We’re thriving now and everyone is doing afrobeats and everyone wants to be a part of the culture and the movement.”

“It’s really my goal to open people up more to the African continent and I’m tyring to do it through hip hop. I always shout out an area I would love to experience. Surulere is a city in Nigeria and a lot of my family is there. Anytime I get a chance, I shout it out.”

He also flexes about his garb – something he has been doing since his Attention Deficit days. On Spirit, he compares his clothes to an UFC fight ticket. He laughs when I mention this and then says: “That line is just a reference to the clothing I wear. The couture. Just how expensive it is.”

“The clothes cost around what it would cost to go and sit front row at a Conor McGregor fight. I was always into fashion. That’s definitely the next step for me. Being in Europe and Africa, and looking at the fabrics, that’s where I’m trying to take the business.”

The Spirit artwork is a clenched fist and is a nod to support of the struggle. So I ask him what he pumps his fist for. “I pump my fist up for something called Santa Cause DMV. It’s for mentally and physically abused kids in the city of DC, so every year, we collect money so that, for Christmas, kids who have been abused and are in homes can experience a great Christmas.” That’s the spirit.