The next big hope – or "saviour," as it seems to be spelt nowadays – to drop this year is Wale. Yes, something feels wrong – artists actually seem to be releasing music… All we need now is Dre and Saigon, and we'll know that the world is coming to an end. Wale has been simmering for nigh on three years now, having put out three mixtapes (one of which was pretty damn good), and the time has finally arrived for "Attention: Deficit" to makes a debut on the international stage. He clearly has some high profile friends, as the list of luminaries lending a hand is lengthy: Mark Ronson, Cool & Dre, the Neptunes, DJ Green Lantern, Dave Sitek, Bun B, Gucci Mane, Jazmine Sullivan, Chrisette Michele, Marsha Ambrosius, J.Cole, Lady Gaga… Can his identity survive that onslaught of talent and outside assistance?
The singles, such as "Chillin'" – which is the Lady Gaga-does-M.I.A. (but not in the dirty way) first release – more or less miss the mark, as does "Pretty Girls" featuring Gucci Mane. "World Tour" is an alright bit of fun that probably sounds much better live than on wax, so if none of the singles are particularly compelling, the album as a whole sure as hell better be. Musically, things start off quite promisingly with "Triumph" and "Mama Told Me" being followed by the Mark Ronson-helmed "Mirrors" – all three have character and appeal, and set a decent tone for the album. In fact, there isn't really a "wack" beat on the album, but, having listened to the whole LP many a time, you begin to realise that there are very few "special" or even distinctive instrumentals, with only a few such as "90210" managing to hit the mark. In particular, something like "Beautiful Bliss" is thoroughly competent, but sounds EXACTLY like a rip from Lupe Fiasco's "Food & Liquor."
So if he is The One to resurrect hip hop, we need to look at a few important points regarding, most importantly, Wale the MC. How are the lyrics? Well, although some of them take a little while to comprehend, his punchlines range from solid to very clever; the internal rhyme schemes are generally quite impressive and relatively intricate. He seems to have graduated from the Kanye school of rap, as he does sound an awful lot like Mr West at times (whilst Kid Cudi just sounds like West on a crack comedown). How about the subject matter? Well, although there isn't that much of a genuinely personal take on his life – other than boring nonsense about what gigs he has done where – he does at least TRY to make things interesting on a few tracks. His story-telling abilities on "90210" are coupled with a sense of bitterness that benefits the tale of a young white girl that unwisely wants the life that she sees on TV; "Shades" reopens the debate on the actual colour/shade of your skin, and asks a somewhat fascinating question: if Barack Obama had not been so light-skinned, would he have been elected as President? As for "Diary," a semi-interesting bout of high school poetry saves the number from oblivion via cod psychology. That's pretty much it, as you begin to realise that for an artist that has hyped himself up to be something a bit different from the rest, "Attention: Deficit" is actually a pretty thin album, one that is two songs away from vacuous.
The biggest problem with Wale's debut LP is that sure, the music is good, some of the concepts are interesting… But it is all very middle of the road, and Wale himself is an MC desperately in need of charisma. "Attention: Deficit" is a pleasurable listening experience but somehow kind of dull. That everything is by the book is neither here nor there, but – and this is where his score gets severely marked down – his VOICE is uninteresting: it lacks emotional depth on the deeper songs, arrogance on the party tracks, and character on the story-telling numbers. In this post-2006 landscape where every single bright young thing seems to sound exactly like some weird Kanye/Lupe/Wayne hybrid – only not as good as ANY of those three – apparently some people think that how good an MC you are has nothing to do with how well you are received. Recently Kid Cudi earned a classic rating on this site for his debut, even though (and ask almost anyone this) he cannot SING or RAP. Yet, Cudi's album was either extremely poor or absolutely fantastic, depending on your REACTION. I personally loved it – particularly musically – yet esteemed friends outright dismissed it. At least it prompted feeling, though. And that is my worry for Wale's "Attention: Deficit" outing – I've listened to it extensively, yet feel practically nothing for or against it, despite his protestations. The reaction to every single song is the same: indifference. I'm just not quite sure what the point of it all is, and the only thing that should be applauded is the consistently solid (but hardly classic) music, and the touch of ambition Wale displays on a couple of concept songs such as "90210" and "Shades." Otherwise, the question of whether his identity can survive with such a huge crowd of guest vocalists and producers is a moot point – Wale doesn't actually have much of an identity, and that's why this album will come and go without disrupting so much as a hair on your head.
Music Vibes: 6.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 6.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 6.5 of 10
Originally posted: November 10, 2009