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Photos by Imani McIntyre

Last week, the number one selling artist in America wasn't Jay-Z, Kanye West or J. Cole, but a rapper who currently stands among the most unheralded artists in hip-hop. Wale's third studio album, The Gifted, last week topped the Billboard 200 for the first time in his career, with the MMG rapper finally breaking through after falling just short of the top of the charts with his previous effort, 2011's Ambition (which peaked at No. 2). Yet Wale's career suffers from a strange dichotomy; he's a bonafide talent in the music industry, producing major hits and Grammy nominations while functioning as a key cog in one of the biggest conglomerates in the business, yet he's been downplayed and left out of the discussion more often than not. Women love him, but some men seem to hate him. He argues that he is "America’s dream and America’s nightmare at the same time," producing No. 1 albums while being continually derided by the critics. The DC native sat down with XXL last week to discuss his feelings on being on top of the charts, being boxed in as an artist, the meaning of New Black Soul, and his position as one of the best yet most criticized artists in hip-hop.—Emmanuel C.M. (@ECM_LP)