Wale‘s Attention Deficit has been one of the most anticipated debuts in hip-hop for quite a while. The D.C. native put together five excellent mixtapes (the sublime Seinfeld takeoff Mixtape About Nothing stands out by far), a few hits (including Justice remix “W.A.L.E.D.A.N.C.E.” and the male shoe lover’s anthem “Nike Boots”) and acted (with fellow District of Columbia musicians UCB) as the house band for the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.
But, as I’m sure Wale heard millions of times since bursting onto the scene in 2005, all people seemed to care about was when the album was going to drop. And, now, it finally has. Thankfully, it lives up to all of that hype.
Fanfare fit for a king opens the album on “Triumph”. The track, produced by Dave Sitek (member of TV on the Radio, producer of everything from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to that Scarlett Johanssen Tom Waits cover album) features some squiggly synth noise that wouldn’t feel out of place in Sitek’s unfortunately hiatus’ed band. “I asked Mr. West for a little bit of help, but realized us new niggers got to get it ourself” Wale explains, addressing the rumors that Kanye would have a feature on the album. The line’s clever, pop-friendly and has that braggadocio that a debut needs. Later on, he shows off his credentials as a post-modern rapper: “You slumdog and I’m the millionaire”.
Bongo-heavy “Mama Told Me” functions well as a low-tempo groove, leading into the incredibly slick “Mirrors”. The track, which features the surviving half of UGK, depends on the goofy-serious chorus “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the realest of them all?” over a stuttered, seventies-cop drama soundtrack of wah’ed guitars and horn stabs. “Pretty Girls”, already slated as the third single from Attention Deficit features the suddenly hot, throat-shredded Gucci Mane and a thumping marching band-esque backbeat.
Later, the Mark Ronson production on “90210” sounds like a Super Nintendo soundtrack (Yoshi’s Island, anyone?), but very sincerely discusses bulimia and cocaine addiction. “Chillin”, the lead single, is based on a sample of Steam’s stadium-friendly “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” put together by Cool & Dre. Lady Gaga adds a sickly sweet schoolyard chant and Wale delivers a dual insult that only Wale could: rhyming McLovin’ (a reference to the ubiquitous nerd-friendly comedy Superbad) with Chris Mullin (the early nineties NBA star perhaps best known for his alcohol problem).
“TV In the Radio” (produced by Sitek! Get it?!) finds Wale pumped about his Nike boots, Gucci, champagne and how goddamn original he is. Sitek’s track here sounds like it could be a remixed Dear Science piece, full of vintage, synthy rhythm, slick, lush horns and a latin beat. K’Naan takes a bland verse, but the wall of Wales chorus and Sitek production more than keep the track from fumbling.
Wale’s flow throughout the album is consistently strong and full of references that mesh the nerdy with the cool. The production is, as the album title would imply, spastic, off the wall and all over the place. Features like Bun B and Gaga bolster an already impressive young talent and bring him further into the mainstream. A few tracks sputter, but, for better or for worse, theyre also tracks that Wales done much better in the past. For example, “Contemplate” is a sappy bit of introspection, while “The Vacation From Ourselves” on Mixtape About Nothing hit on all cylinders. But, he shouldn’t be penalized for having put out great tracks before the album.
If it was just for a track like “Triumph”, this album would be a winner. There are some less than stellar tracks, some strange choices, but Wale has a personality and a style that can not be reproduced by anyone else. On Attention Deficit, Wale has put together a great debut full of excellent signs that there will be a bright future ahead.