Thursday, November 12, 2009
After releasing 2 fantastic mixtapes (2007's 100 Miles and Running and 2008's The Mixtape About Nothing) and the mixed bag of 2009's Back to the Feature Mixtape, Wale is finally releasing his formal debut album, entitled Attention Deficit. Featuring collaborations with Bun B, Gucci Mane, Pharrel and even Lady Gaga herself, Attention Deficit hopes to simultaneously cement Wale's reputation as an elite underground artist and seamlessly inject him into the pop culture vernacular. Unfortunately, the record feels like Wale forcefully trying to do the latter, rather than allowing his talent to speak for itself.
Several rappers have made careers solely out of tooting their own horn (see LIL WAYNE) and have enough analogies and metaphors backlogged to never need to change the formula. Wale is at his best when he stops worrying about his perception and what is "real" and simply offers engaging wordplay. This is what made 100 Miles and Running and The Mixtape About Nothing so successful. Even though the songs featured a healthy dose of ego, it was balanced with a levity that is missing on Attention Deficit. Maybe that is the culture of mixtapes, and it's over my head, but mixtape's sound infinitely more fun than albums. Relieved of the pressure of coming up with a catchy beat or stuffing in guest verses, Mixtapes allow artists to showcase themselves and be judged solely on their lyrics, for better or worse. Because mixtapes are such a new phenomenon, it will be interesting to see if artists that have enjoyed unprecedented mixtape success (see Wale, Drake, Gucci Mane) are able to translate it into mainstream fame.
Attention Deficit starts promisingly enough with the shimmering Triumph and the jazzy Mirrors, but it isn't long before R&B breakdowns and precious production begins to weigh the record down. While the subject matter on tracks like 90210 (eating disorders) and Shades (dark skinned vs light skinned African Americans) is engaging, they come off sounding like Top 40 ballads, without a single memorable Wale verse. Chillin ft. Lady Gaga offers a refreshing change of pace before the album takes a complete nosedive into the finish line, degrading into Wale sulking over a nameless R&B hook. Wale is at his best when he lets go of his apprehension and has fun, and for whatever reason (pressure? too many guest spots? crappy beats?), this is sorely missing on Attention Deficit. In the meantime, here is W.A.L.E.D.A.N.C.E from 100 Miles and Running.