Before I start this review, I’m going to lay my cards on the table. I am a Wale fan. Some would say fanatic. I wouldn’t argue with them either. The truth is that since December of 2008 when I took my first full listen to Mixtape About Nothing, I’ve been sold on this man’s talent. I’ve looked forward to the release of Attention Deficit for months. When I was approached to write a review of the album, I was a bit skeptical. I am, after all, qualified because I’m familiar with Wale’s entire mixtape catalog, however I knew I’d have to set aside my “fandom” and give an objective listen. I accepted that challenge. So, here goes nothing.
Mainstream Hip Hop Introduction
As an introduction to mainstream hip-hop, Attention Deficit does a decent job. It reveals Wale as the witty, introspective and observant MC that his mixtape fan base has grown to love. There are areas, however, where it disappoints. If you know of his previous work, you know that in addition to lyricism, Wale has also mastered an energetic and sometimes aggressive delivery.
There were several instances in his mixtape catalog where he channels Black Thought in his flow patterns and cadences. While the lyrics on Attention Deficit are up to par, Wale fails to destroy any of the tracks delivery-wise. On the opening “Triumph,” he almost sounds uninspired. You almost wish that the following track “Mama Told Me,” was the opener, as he sounds more lively and awake.
And while Wale’s wordplay on the standout “Beautiful Bliss” is sick, his Roc Nation comrade J. Cole demolishes the beat with his powerful delivery. Another let down was the Bun B-assisted “Mirrors.” While the content message are on point, the song lacks the wow factor of the duo’s mixtape match-ups, “Back in the Go-Go” and “Talkin Shyt.”
Where he sometimes lacks in delivery, Wale more than compensates in depth and concepts. Do not be fooled by the guest appearances from Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Pharrell and Gucci Mane (EEK!), the bulk of Attention Deficit is for thinkers. Tracks such as “Contemplate” (which features a Rihanna sample) and “Prescription” sound as though they were made for ear-plugs and introspection. “Shades,” featuring Chrisette Michele, gives us insight into his struggle with his dark-skin in a world that worships fair skin.
More Attention to the Ladies
Wale also pays very special attention to the ladies on this album, not just with club friendly tracks (“Pretty Girls” and “Inhibitions”), but with songs that explore women’s self-esteem and insecurities. “90210″ tells the story of a young lady who loses herself to the fast life of Beverly Hills. His depiction of her lifestyle is razor sharp.
So pretentious,with no potential,She goes to Ketchup, although her rent’s up, In her defense, she part of the crowd, She gon’ borrow some money, so she can party at Chow’s, It’s a part of her goals, It’s all she knows, Graduated from Rose, addicted to blow.
The crown jewel of the album, “Diary,” finds Wale playing the role of a man pursuing a scorned woman with the help of a passionate chorus sung by Marsha Ambrosius. The heartfelt lyrics alone make this song a winner, but in the final 1:45 of the track, Wale flips into spoken word, spitting lines like
Diamonds/A girl’s best friend is what they say/But with the right allegiance shawty you gon’ shine anyway.
This same spoken word technique is found on the end of the album in the aforementioned “Prescription,” a go-go tinged ode to the rapper’s overall dopeness. The final :45 is so ill that I could not pick just one quotable, you’re better served by hearing it in its entirety. Speaking of go-go, Wale also does a solid job of paying homage to his DMV roots, with go-go instrumentation throughout the album, most prominently on the single “Pretty Girls” which features a sample from DC go-go vets, Backyard Band.
As a fan, it is my wish that Attention Deficit will put Wale alongside Drake and Kid Cudi as Freshman Class front-runners. Realistically, I feel that even if the numbers don’t work to Wale’s advantage, the potential for critical acclaim is high enough to secure Wale’s place as a hip-hop heavyweight.