Far from requiring an extra dose of Ritalin to enjoy, Wale’s “Attention Deficit” is a refreshingly eclectic album that will immediately grab your attention and hold it as Wale (pronounced Wal-ay) takes you into his personal world of DMV hip-hop. After self-releasing a series of mix-tapes that were popular in the D.C. area over the past couple years, “Attention Deficit” is Wale’s first album with a major label. Nine of the 14 tracks feature at least one guest artist and this collaboration allows Wale to showcase his diverse talents and musical interests. But Wale’s drive to establish himself as a member of the national MC club transcends the variety of tempos, beats, and artists on “Attention Deficit” and imbues the album with an enticing intensity.
“Chillin” is a fitting first single for Wale to use as an announcement of his arrival on the main stage. Resolutely defiant about his hip-hop credentials, the track declares Wale’s unique affiliation with the DMV, Wale’s hometown area of D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. As if to prove that he was born ready to compete with hip-hop heavyweights like Jay-Z and Kanye West, Wale goes all out to make “Chillin” stand out. While establishing his hip-hop skills by rapping about the tried and true subjects of cars, cash, and clothes, Wale also samples from “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” by the long-forgotten 1970s pop band Steam and welcomes Lady Gaga onto the track. “They keep sayin’ whale, but my name Wale” he complains before proclaiming “you redundant, you never ever change.” Unfortunately the collaboration with Lady Gaga, which sometimes feels stilted and forced, is the weakest component of the track. But Wale redeems himself and “Chillin” with the quick wordplay that has consistently earned him praise from critics.
On many tracks Wale portrays himself as an industry outsider who has had to fight the establishment to earn his due respect. Nowhere is this clearer than on “Triumph,” the strongest of Wale’s non-collaborative efforts on the album and also the first track. He unabashedly claims that he “asked Mr. West for a little bit of help” but was rejected, proof of the fact that new artists “gotta get it ourself.” On “Mirror,” Wale and Bun B ask “mirror mirror on the wall, who the realest of them all” and assert that Wale’s understanding of the urban experience is more pure than those of mainstream artists. Wale wants to distinguish himself from rappers who create outlandish media personas by allowing his audience to experience the “realest” person that looks back at him in the mirror.
Acutely conscious of his roots, Wale is proud to claim allegiance with an alternative urban environment that is culturally and musically distinct from New York and Los Angeles. Washington D.C. was the center of the go-go movement in hip-hop and funk, a heritage that Wale readily appropriates for “Attention Deficit.” The go-go of the ’70s can be heard in the jaunty beats, percussion, and horns that populate the entire album. But it is even more explicit in the bits that Wale samples for “Chillin” and “Mamma Told Me.” This truly unique musical inspiration sets Wale apart and gives credibility to his claims that he is something new and different.
Though the majority of songs on “Attention Deficit” are light-hearted jibes at the establishment, Wale also displays an interest in dissecting racial issues and romantic tribulations. Contrary to my first thought, “Shades” is not a meditation on the value of stunna shades. It is in fact an examination of intra-race relations between African Americans with different skin tones that ponders the various stereotypes faced by people on account of their skin color. Slower-paced and more relaxed, “Contemplate” and “Diary” explore the pain of love lost. Though these are not the tracks that immediately jump out at first listen, they are actually the most meaningful songs on “Attention Deficit” and suggest that Wale has a future after his success prevents him from rapping about his outsider status.
“Attention Deficit” is a success because it is unabashedly fun and true to Wale’s roots. The exciting beats and clever lyrics grab attention and Wale holds the listener with his novel take on modern hip-hop. Though Wale’s attempt to set himself as an outsider to the music industry is clichéd, his music is truly unique. If nothing else, the willingness of artists like Lady Gaga, Pharrell, and Gucci Mane to work with Wale demonstrates that his talents are appreciated and that his assault on the status quo will have an impact on the hip-hop community.
—Staff Writer Eric M. Sefton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.