The Gear That Gives Wale His Golden (and Platinum) Voice

If you've heard Wale's voice on a song over the last nine years, chances are you heard Kevin Spencer's work. The first song the Grammy-nominated engineer worked on with the DMV rap legend was 2011's "Bait," which will make 2021 the start of a new decade for the pair. No one outside of Wale himself knows the inner workings of the rapper's hit-making recording setup, one they've refined over the years.

Spencer spoke with Reverb about the backstories and equipment that went into three of the biggest records of Wale's career.

From 2011–2014, when Wale was establishing himself as a songwriting force, the pair used a vintage Neumann U 67 microphone from Atlanta recording studio Astro Studios back when it was still referred to as Zac Recordings. That mic is responsible for recording Wale on his platinum-selling "The Matrimony" with Usher and most of his Gold-certified sophomore album, Ambition.

Wale - "Matrimony"

The U 67 was such a favorite among the two that they included the Peluso P-67 in the arsenal due to it being a "clone of the U 67," according to Spencer, a fact that helped Wale score the most successful song he's ever made, "Bad."

Before Rihanna hopped on the song's remix, helping the first single from Wale's third album The Gifted reach double-platinum status, the song had humble beginnings. "The song 'Bad' was recorded at a home studio he has here in Atlanta when he lived here. I put some sound treatment in a closet and that's where that song was recorded."

The original vocals for the song were recorded using the Peluso P-67 mic. A month before the remix with Rihanna was released in June 2013, the original song was already a Gold-certified hit. Then, on one random spring night at a New York City club, the song got a superstar addition.

"It really happened on a whim. We were at the club, Wale invited her back to the studio, and she went in there and put down the verse," Spencer remembered. "It was very natural. She was telling him, 'I love that song.' So, he said, 'I got the studio right now. You want to do this?' She just said, 'Yes!' That was it."

When they got to the studio, Spencer recorded Rihanna using a Neve 1073 into a Tube-Tech CL 1B compressor, and the rest was Billboard history. The pair loved the vintage quality of the U 67 for years, but at some point, they had to evolve.

"When we traveled around to different studios, we realized all vintage mics weren't created equally. If we go to New York, then we have to rent a vintage U 67 and that may sound different. It started to cause too many problems with consistency."

Wale feat. Rihanna - "Bad (Remix)"

By the time Wale was ready to work on his fifth studio album, 2017's Shine, it was time to make an upgrade to the Sony C800G, due to it being newer than the U 67 and thus more likely to be available at different studios when they travel. The Sony C800G can be thanked for hits like "On Chill" and his Megan Thee Stallion collaboration "Pole Dancer."

As far as plugins, Soundtoys and Waves Diamond Bundle have been frequent tools for Wale and Spencer they record.

"Some of the lesser-known plugins I've been using for over 10 years are Metric Halo ChannelStrip and Massenburg DesignWorks EQ. The Massenburg is a really good plugin and based off the GML 8200 EQ," Spencer explains. "Those EQs have some properties that are phenomenal with isolating problem frequencies or finding the frequency you want to boost or cut."

Spencer's plugin acumen came in handy when crafting what is arguably the most important song in Wale's extensive catalog, 2011's "Lotus Flower Bomb." The Miguel collaboration from Ambition was his first Gold-certified single and the source of his only Grammy nomination in his career. The song sounds vintage because everyone and every piece of recording equipment worked together to achieve that goal.

"Miguel is very humble, and he wanted to make sure he was doing the record justice. He was really concerned about what Wale wanted was being served."

Spencer says the combination of both artists recording with the Peluso P-67 and Spencer using the Soundtoys Decapitator plugin on both of their vocals helped saturate them to give them weight and the classic sound that has defined Wale's career.

About the author: Keith Nelson Jr is a seasoned music journalist who followed his innate passion for knowledge to interview some of the most influential figures in the music industry. He's a journalist who connects the dot to see the bigger picture.

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