United Welcome Wale
D.C. United have made it their mission to identify and recruit local prospects, having signed two youth academy products in the last six months as goalkeeper Bill Hamid joined the senior squad last fall and 17-year-old midfield phenom Andy Najar agreed to terms this week.
In fact, United have been scouting all sorts of hometown talent. Next weekend the club will welcome D.C. native Wale, one of hip-hop's hottest commodities, to RFK Stadium for a free concert ahead of the home opener against the New England Revolution. The brainchild of United Director of Marketing Communications Kyle Sheldon, it's the first in a season-long series of pregame shows planned for the Armory Mall, the grassy plaza just west of RFK Stadium's main entrance.
But first the Black-and-Red welcomed Wale (pronounced wah-LAY; full name Olubowale Folarin) to their training session on Wednesday morning, presenting him with a replica jersey before inviting him out for a quick kickaround.
"I love it. Wale is one of my favorite artists," said D.C. defender Rodney Wallace, himself a Washington-area native whose pregame iPod selections regularly include Wale and other local rappers. "Good music, that's like a breath of fresh air… He's from the area, he's in D.C. so it's good that we're going to have him playing before our game."
By his own admission, Wale plays more basketball and football these days, but a throng of United players eagerly watched him take a few touches before posing for photos at the end of practice. Although he attended two area universities on football scholarships, he explained that soccer was all around him growing up, thanks to his family's Nigerian roots.
"Yeah, my dad was actually really good in soccer. A lot of my uncles were – still are," said the 25-year-old. "They got beer bellies, but they can do it, you know what I'm saying?"
Still recovering from the disappointing campaigns endured by the Washington Redskins and Wizards, Wale says he's eager to see United represent the nation's capital with a successful MLS season like those enjoyed during the club's late-90s dynasty era.
"I remember when they came through when the league just started, they was winning everything," he said. "As long as we're winning something in D.C., man, it's good, good morale for me. I just want to see D.C. something win, Maryland something win…I've just got an affinity for all the hometown teams."
Known for his quirky, rapid-fire rhymes and an affinity for beats influenced by go-go, the city's much-loved, drum-heavy music style, Wale built his reputation around D.C. with a flurry of self-made mix tapes before releasing Attention Deficit last November, a well-received major label debut that featured Lady Gaga, Pharrell Williams and a host of other A-listers.
He's clearly eager to take his budding career to the next level in 2010. He played at halftime of a Redskins-Dallas Cowboys NFL game at FedEx Field in December and hopes to connect with old and new fans alike at RFK next week, citing Jay-Z's performance at Yankee Stadium during the World Series as a model.
"It's a different environment. A lot of the people that go to my shows, listen to my songs, are out of their element. But they're still trying, you know. You just got to leave people with a memory. That's what I try to do," he explained. "It's like buzzworthy, something to talk about – for your fans to get excited that you're at the game with them."