Critical Voices: Wale – Attention Deficit

November 5, 2009

Wale almost came to campus two years ago to play a show in Red Square for $5,000. Now, he’s touring with Jay-Z and N.E.R.D, teaming with Lady Gaga for overseas radio success, and releasing his long-delayed debut, Attention Deficit, on Interscope Records. After early singles remixing Justice and talking about Nike boots, Attention Deficit largely sticks to that pop culture-centric approach, but there’s enough substance here to make it worth a listen for fans of 2009 hip-hop.

The album’s first half is definitively pop, with ebullient productions and songs like “Pretty Girls” and “World Tour”—both released as singles—glamorizing the superstar lifestyle Wale has only recently found himself a part of. “Pretty Girls” is one of the better tracks here, with a great hook courtesy of D.C. go-go legend Weensey and a solid guest appearance by Gucci Mane, whose half-speed flow works as a great foil to Wale’s slippery style. While Wale often emphasizes his affiliation with D.C. and P.G. (Prince George’s County, right outside the city), his style is fairly cosmopolitan, bringing in a host of diverse influences not confined to the area. If anything, there’s a slight go-go influence in the diversity of percussion used throughout the songs, but it’s not enough to distinguish this as anything but pop-rap.

Occasionally, Wale plays social critic to the world he often glamorizes. On “90210,” carried by Mark Ronson’s subtly bittersweet beat, he goes into storytelling mode. “She throws up whatever she eats/He leaves the bathroom with a nosebleed/Regular girl, celebrity dreams/She is 90210.” On “Shades,” over a similarly heartfelt beat from 9th Wonder, he takes up the taboo subject of skin tone. “I never fit in with them light skins/I felt the lighter they was the better their life is/so I resented them & they resented me,” he raps. In the age of Obama, whose “blackness” has often been a topic of debate, Wale has the balls to wonder “what if Barack’s skin was all black truthfully/would he be a candidate?”

In that context, first single “Chillin” is a disappointment. Lines like “You say you got a lot of whips/Well, I got a lot” might -pppbe clever and entertaining when taken in isolation, but often Wale strings together unrelated couplets without the endearing absurdity of, say, Lil Wayne. While he clearly has plenty of skill—his 2008 Mixtape About Nothing showed his versatility and unconventional approach—it sometimes seems like Wale dumbs down his approach for mainstream success. That’s a shame, because this had the potential to be more than just another 2009 mainstream hip-hop album. But that’s exactly what it is.

Voice’s Choices: “Mama Told Me,” “Pretty Girls,” “90210”

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Harrison Beacher

Astute observations. good article, Wale is popping out… hes making money… and many MD/DC natives and gogo lovers would argue he is bastardizing go-go music and has been since he started. I beg to differ, i think hes gonna take an eminem approach, come with something that gets peopel to pay him, gets him some money and attention, then he can get real and make some quality stuff with his second and third projects, where he will have more production control… all in all im happy for wale, I hope people realize where his song pretty girls came from tho…that Good GO-GO.