Ok, people. Let’s all take a deep breath. Wale’s a rapper, not the second coming of Christ. After dropping a few highly heralded mixtapes, playing the MTV Video Music Awards and being publicly lauded by everyone from Mark Ronson to Jay-Z, I know it seems like Wale’s been part of hip-hop’s elite circle for years, but he’s still only in the beginning stages of what promises to be a long career. In truth, in just three short years Wale has catapulted from being just another rapper trying to make it in Washington D.C.’s chronically overlooked …
DJBooth Album Review
I wrote all that not to bring Wale down, but to preemptively strike against anyone who listens to Wale’s long-awaited debut album Attention Deficit and declares they’re disappointed. Yes, if you were expecting a classic album, the modern era’s greatest display of hip-hop mastery, than Attention Deficit will fall well short of your lofty expectations. So how about instead we all be f*king reasonable for once? This is only Wale’s rookie season, and like any talented and highly drafted rookie he has a way to go before he learns the ins and outs of the professional game, but there’s no hiding talent, and Wale’s crafted Attention Deficit to ensure his skill cannot and will not be ignored.
To quote Emilio Rojas, it’s a bold and arrogant move to start your debut album with a song titled Triumph, but I admire Wale’s confidence, and more importantly he backs up the track’s boast with the kind of flow that first garnered him attention, seamlessly combining fearlessness (“F**k the camaraderie with B-rate artists”), oh s**t punchlines (“Michael Vick, if y’all bark, y’all through”) and pop culture references (“you a slum dog, I’m a millionaire”). It’s a statement track, and a great choice to lead off the album. Much more conducive to dancing but no less lyrically astute is Mirrors, a track whose production has Mark Ronson’s organic, retro-soul fingerprints all over it. Here Wale proves he can switch up his cadence, all the better to flow over Mirror’s oscillating beat, and Bun B provides a dope bass counterbalance to Wale’s baritone voice. Throw in World Tour, a head-nodding, quasi-Tribe Called Quest tribute featuring Jazmine Sullivan, and you’ve got a telling microcosm of Attention Deficit, an album that Wale’s brave enough to let sonically wander but strong enough to keep tied together.
Attention Deficit doesn’t contain mistakes as much as it contains compromises, compromises that a more established and experience rapper than Wale would have been able to avoid. I think we all know that I’m talking about Pretty Girls, the album’s most blatant attempt at wooing radio programmers; what other reason could there be to include Gucci Mane? Real talk: Wale only has three rap features on his album, and Gucci Mane is one of them? Really? That move’s got commercial compromise written all over it. The inclusion of Lady Gaga on Chillin isn’t quite as blatant, at least she’s a boundary pushing artist in her own right, but here she only does a lazy M.I.A. impression, and more tellingly Wale noticeably dumbs down his flow on Chillin for the album’s most forgettable verses. The most successful merger of national appeal with Wale’s distinctively local style is Let It Loose, a Neptunes produced track that’s Attention Deficit’s sacrifical offering to the clubs, but it ultimately feels more like a Pharrell joint than a Wale track. He’s just not artistically strong enough to own a track like Let It Loose…yet.
So Attention Deficit isn’t a perfect album? So what? To focus on its valleys would be to miss its tremendous peaks. Impressively Wale covers a lot of musical ground, most notably TV in the Radio, a cut that brings on K’Naan and producer Dave Sitek (fittingly of the band TV on the Radio) for a gripping original anthem; Shades, a soulful exploration of black-on-black racism with Chrisette Michelle and Diary, a stunning cut featuring Marsha Ambrosius. If you were expecting Wale to be a true game changer, these are the tracks that will give you hope, the tracks that will ensure the hype surrounding his next album will be almost impossibly huge. After Attention Deficit, I wouldn’t be surprised if Wale eventually exceeds all our expectations.
DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 11/12/09
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