Wale, Attention Deficit, (2009)
Almost a year ago, XXL Magazine announced a list of ten rappers who were going to change the game. They called it the "Class of 09", and at the time it was a very solid list of promising performers. In the time that has passed, some of these dudes are still relevant while others have completely fallen off the face of the earth. All ten entered with a fair amount of buzz, but the internets wasn't kind to all of them. Kid Cudi had a smash hit with "Day N Nite", but his album was kind of flat and even a co-sign from Kanye couldn't save him from some middling MTV tour with Paramore. B.o.B.'s talent is undeniable, and B.o.B. Vs Bobby Ray was one of the doper mixtapes of the year, but the constant name-changing between B.o.B. and Bobby Ray proved to be mildly irritating, and as a result this dude spent the fall opening for Shwayze on tour. Charles Hamilton was already wack, but in 2009 he showed all the world that he was truly a waste of time. Asher Roth started to build a following, but then he released "Lark on my Go-Kart", which sucked, and after that he made a comment about nappy-headed hoes, and as Don Imus already proved, white men in America cannot say that. The list goes on, but there is one exception.
In the interview with XXL, Wale talks about the industry "game". What stands out the most from that conversation, is when Mr. Folarin says that he isn't going to conform to anyone's standards, and even if it takes him longer he is still going to do his own thing. It's reminiscent of the movie Ghost Dog, which stars Forrest Whitaker in the title role of a gangster samurai who lives on a rooftop with a horde of pigeons. That is a man, who is truly doing his own thing. And, that's important because there is only the way. For any one person, there is only one way that they can get it done. In a way, this is what makes Wale's debut album all the more impressive, but at the same time it's also what holds it back.
The haters say that Wale has no personality. What they're really saying is that Wale has no gimmick. He doesn't use Auto-Tune. He doesn't rap about hustling. In fact, when compared to his constituents, Wale doesn't even talk that much shit. There are moments, but he's never cocky or arrogant for long stretches of time. For all intents and purposes, Wale is hip hop's answer to being a bro. He's a regular guy, for the most part. He's from D.C., so thats what he likes to rap about. He also talks about women, mainly because he likes women. However, Wale's debut album is not an hour full of go-go beats and songs dedicated to women. There's some go-go, and the subject of women does come up, but for the most part this album is kind of all over the place.
Leading up to Attention Deficit's release, Wale had a great resume. He rapped over a Justice song. He released a Seinfeld-themed mixtape, he did a song with The Roots. Then came the singles for Attention Deficit. "Chillin" was released first, and featured Lady Gaga on the hook. Wale gets some props since it's the only hip hop song that Lady Gaga has done, but at the same time it's not that great of a song and Lady Gaga's role on it revolves around trying to sound like Santigold. The next single was "World Tour", and had Jazmine Sullivan on it. The internets say that this track is supposed to be some sort of tribute to A Tribe Called Quest, and while that may be the case, this song is still kind of boring. The third single was the Gucci Mane assisted "Pretty Girls". This is a catchy song, even if it sounds like Gucci's part was pasted on after the song was complete. For someone who says they want to do their own thing, Wale has a funny way of showing it. Gucci Mane may be quite popular at the moment, but is he really needed for this? Fortunately, three songs do not make an album and despite these missteps Wale manages to create a quality product.
TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek, Mark Ronson, Pharrell, and Green Lantern all produce tracks on Attention Deficit, and these songs are among the best. Haters could argue that while this is an impressive list of producers, there's still no Kanye on it and general rule of thumb dictates that hot hip hop albums have Kanye on them. Sitek's album opener, "Triumph", is especially dope and seems to suggest that Attention Deficit is going to be one of the freshest hip hop albums of the last few years, but that sentiment doesn't last for the disc's entirety. Ronson produced "Mirrors", and this is another good one. Wale has a crazy stuttered flow, and it has Bun B on it. Sitek and Wale team up once more for "TV in the Radio", the best song on the album. K'Naan spits a guest verse, and he and Wale prove themselves as cats that should be listened to. The Pharrell song is called "Let It Loose", and it sounds exactly like a Pharrell song which isn't necessarily a bad thing but at the same time it leaves the listener wanting just a little more.
It's not all about dope beats, though. "Diary" and "Shades" both stand out as thinking man type rap songs, and are among the better tracks for the whole album. "90210" might be about bulimia and coke abuse. "Beautiful Bliss" has J. Cole on it and the production is credited to Green Lantern, but for whatever reason it still misses the mark. "Contemplate" samples Rihanna, and works on most levels but might have been better if it actually had Rihanna on it.
Given all the push-backs for this album, one would be safe in assuming that Wale lost a considerable amount of sleep fretting over Attention Deficit. He probably listened to these tracks over and over again, while trying to put together a perfect album. He definitely tried, but it's almost like he was so involved with this project he missed some other stuff. It just seems like he was so dead set on making a huge album, and as a result he lost sight of what this should have been. Gucci Mane and Lady Gaga have no business being on a rapper's debut album. "Pretty Girls" could be a hit song without Gucci. The album could be better if "Chillin" wasn't on it. Some mistakes were made, but it's not the end of the world. This is still an entertaining record. It stacks up favorably against any other hip hop album that came out in 2009, with the exception of the Raekwon album, but thats one of the best albums of the last five or ten years so that almost doesn't even count. For the last few years, people have been saying that Wale was going to be the one who put D.C. on the hip hop map. He's already done that, kind of. Attention Deficit hammers it home to the point where it's irrefutable. And given the internets feverish tendencies, they're probably ready for even more.