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“I’ve dreamed my whole life about doing some shit like this here,” Wale said against the backdrop of street artist Gaia’s Dusk of H Street mural on Saturday afternoon.

The D.C. rapper was referring to The Concert About Nothing—-the short-notice, free concert he threw on Saturday afternoon in the AutoZone parking lot on H Street NE. Wale considers himself the city’s prodigal son, the local artist who departed in search of fame, only to learn that the world outside of the District of Columbia is a soul-devouring monster. Saturday’s performance was his homecoming celebration, a picturesque conclusion to a week that saw the release of his best album to date, The Album About Nothing. For about an hour, Wale performed a collection of songs from his latest project and a few older tunes that weren’t old enough to alienate the crowds that formed in the parking lot and across the street.

Wale took the stage to the sound of Ambition’s “Legendary,” a denouncement of wealth, fame, and “anything anyone can take from [him].” It was the show’s perfect launchpad, as Wale has admitted that he lost himself in those very things in his aspirational journey to stardom. In a trailer released six months prior to The Album About Nothing, he promised a return to square one: the Seinfeld influence, yes, but more importantly, the soul-piercing honesty heard on songs like The Mixtape About Nothing’s “The Crazy.” The passion that sometimes works against Wale also makes him a great live performer, as he’s naturally skilled at communicating that naked emotion. Though Wale didn’t go as far back into his catalog as The Mixtape About Nothing, he did give fans some of the old Wale that many have clamored for in the wake of his commercial success.

More About Nothing’s “The Breakup Song” was a pleasant surprise, as was Attention Deficit’s “90210,” which he blended with TAAN’s “The Girls on Drugs.” Both address women using vices as coping mechanisms, and he allowed the gaggle of female fans in the front row to sing the Janet Jackson sample on the latter. It was a memorable detail, as the main themes of the concert were Wale’s love for his home and the people that make it great. That’s why Wale brought out Trey of UCB go-go fame to handle singer Miguel’s vocals on “Lotus Flower Bomb” and Usher’s on “The Matrimony.” It’s also why he gave Dew Baby the opportunity to perform “Loyalty,” which he included on his Festivus mixtape to give the rapper more exposure. Burly rapper Fat Trel joined the growing crowd onstage to help Wale scream through the thunderous “Bait.”

But the most sentimental moment arrived during Wale’s performance of “The White Shoes.” The song uses the cleanliness of sneakers as a metaphor for pride, and its sad video speaks to the extremes people go to to protect their material possessions. Adding this to the setlist was a poignant move, as shots were fired over sneakers on H Street a little over two years ago. With the sun still shining, The Concert About Nothing ended with “No Hands,” the club anthem that became the unlikely resuscitation of Wale’s career after he was dropped from Interscope Records in 2010.

I was scheduled to interview Wale after the show, but was told onsite that he didn’t want to talk to Washington City Paper due to unflattering things we’ve published about him in the past. (I’ll assume this was one of them.) Artists rebuffing interviews is nothing new, but if this was truly his reasoning, it’s unfortunate. I’ve been a fan of Wale’s music since he said he was a fan of former Georgetown Hoya and NBA legend Allen Iverson, but put more support behind Iverson’s teammate, D.C.’s own Victor Page, nine years ago. As someone who’s been present in D.C. during Wale’s rise, I was genuinely looking forward to a conversation in the midst of the release of the most important album of his career. Wale, who recently mended his contentious relationship with Complex magazine (which I write for), should understand that opinions vary by individual and that music journalists are just that—-journalists, not promoters—-and holding grudges is unprofessional.

Despite that disappointment, the show was euphoric. The Concert About Nothing had a relaxed, impromptu vibe, and the decision to open it up to people who didn’t RSVP made it feel more inclusive. It also felt like a loop had finally been closed for Wale; in September 2008, he released “I Will,” an Xscape-sampling song that pledged eternal devotion to D.C., even if it’s not reciprocated. “This is D.C.’s chance and they put it on him/Meaning I, meaning my love for y’all will never die/And even if I flop, just know that a nigga tried/Know that a youngin’ mindset was gettin’ us to the top/And y’all can hate me if you like, but y’all forever in my heart.” Even if Wale’s not satisfied with or confident in his success, the response to The Album About Nothing and Saturday’s homecoming concert should signal to him that he hasn’t failed at all.

Photo courtesy of Rock Creek Social Club