Amazon: Wale – Attention Deficit
Wale’s debut album has long given the impression that it would be an interesting release. Wale first introduced himself to the mixtape scene as a DC-area go-go representative with a clever, Black Thought-style tongue in 2007. But despite his hype (bolstered by an appearance on the Roots’ Rising Down) clearly setting certain expectations for Wale’s debut, Attention Deficit is remarkably unafraid to surprise and perhaps disappoint. The title is certainly appropriate. The album sounds exactly like the result of a guy raised on television and pop music. Actually, in a lot of ways the album also reminds me of Jay-Z’s Blueprint 3, which is coincidentally useful considering they are currently touring together. While Wale sticks to his go-go roots on “Triumph”, “TV in the Radio”, “Pretty Girls” and “Prescription”, a lot of the other beats have a big, futuristic sheen to them that recalls that album’s cold precision. Features by Rihanna, J. Cole and Pharrell only push the similarities a little more for me.
It’s the push and pull between these two forces – where Wale was and where he’s going – that make this album what it is. Conceptually, I’d say it’s a success. I think a common criticism of this album will be that it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be, a pop album or a thought-provoking one. But I think that Wale’s album does a good job conveying the mindset of a lot of rappers coming up in the business right now. There aren’t as many lines drawn in hip-hop anymore and whatever walls an artist puts up around his camp are almost entirely personal choices at this point. No more Queensbridge vs. Bronx, no more east vs. west, and more and more not even “smart” vs. “dumb”. One of my personal favorite twitter revelations came early in the fall, when Wale went on a period of praise for Gucci Mane and his accomplice OJ da Juiceman. To me, it was a revealingly honest moment coming from an artist whose fans would expect ‘better’ from him. Wale brings that modern hip-hopper’s attitude to Attention Deficit. Not only does he feature artists as diverse as Gucci Mane, K’NAAN and Lady Gaga, but he’s unafraid to cut a song about the conflict between dark-skinned and red/yellow blacks on an album that four songs earlier urged pretty girls to clap their hands and ugly girls to sit down.
So, yea, beyond the concept the album does have its issues. While Wale’s allegiance with Gucci is admirable and even entertaining in an abstract kind of way, Gucci Mane almost certainly has no place on this album. His verse feels disturbingly restrained for a Gucci verse, as he tries his best to pretend he’s the Bun B-esque pop star that can elevate “Pretty Girls” into the single Interscope expects. And speaking of Bun B, his mic presence dominates over Wale on “Mirrors”. Wale holds his own in that instance, but you’ll definitely feel a little bad for him after J. Cole’s verse on “Beautiful Bliss”. I’ll let you discover that one for yourself. The Neptunes, increasingly fractured in the studio and less consistent as a result, throw the first real wrench in the machine, though. “Let It Loose” is actually a decent song in terms of what it’s trying to accomplish, but it completely changes the mood of the album and along with “Chillin'” and the Gucci feature makes Attention Deficit a more confusing album than it deserves to be. I do think the title defense is somewhat appropriate for this album, but it shouldn’t be a crutch by which Interscope and Wale just put out whatever type of songs they want.
Ultimately, the album’s attempts to prematurely frame Wale as a big-time player in the mainstream scene backfires a little bit, but I don’t think it’s enough to sink the album. Wale always comes back with something great like his verse on “TV in the Radio” or all of “Shades”. There’s one more interesting thematic device that puts this album in an unique position. Four or five of the songs here, most directly “90210” (perhaps a spinoff of Kanye West’s “Robocop”?) and “Diary”, deal with fast-life young women trying to extract as much substance-assisted pleasure as they can out of every night. This album addresses specific female problems way more often than most hip-hop albums would dare, and it’s going to be interesting to see what the reaction to that is because I think these songs are some of the standouts on the album. It’s a little unfortunate that Wale has so many R&B singers and other strange features on here, and that the album is so obviously torn between the pop charts and hip-hop. But Wale deserves credit for tiptoeing one of the last true battle lines left in hip-hop commentary with a measured amount of grace, and clearing quite a lot of controversial subject matter for a mainstream release. There’s definitely missteps and I’m not sure if Attention Deficit will age well as the years go by (am I supposed to be?). But this stuff sounds good from front to back even as I don’t personally agree with some of the choices Wale made, and if this album registers as a success and he takes all the right lessons from his tour from Jay-Z, album #2 will be something to add to everyone’s wishlists.