Listening to debut albums often invokes a weird feeling; they feel fresh. Sometimes they come with a unique vibe, like this might be the beginning of something great. With hip-hop, especially, you can hear the hunger. It’s almost a powerful feeling. Reasonable Doubt, Illmatic, Get Rich or Die Trying, College Dropout, Ready to Die, etc. all come with that strange feeling of something special. For whatever reason, Attention Deficit doesn’t bring about that feeling. I’mI am not saying that it isn’t a good record, because I enjoy listening to it a lot. It just does not feel like a debut. Unfortunately for Wale, that’s the nature of today’s industry.
In hip-hop, those that blow seem to come from two very different backgrounds these days. A large number of guys who come out (unfortunately, because they typically suck) are originally introduced to us because they are the underling/gopher/best friend of a rapper that’s already big. If the stars of Entourage were rappers, Vinnie Chase would have an album, but so would E. So would Johnny Drama. And even Turtle. In fact, they’d all probably drop a group album, which might even allow Turtle create a record label and sign a lesser artist, like Saigon.
Others not blessed with famous friends have to grind for a long time before they get a chance. Lately, this has worked out well for us fans, because if an artist we like is in this category they’ll likely put out a ton of mixtapes to try to build a buzz. Enter Wale.
The biggest reason why Attention Deficit doesn’t sound like a debut album is the length of his journey. He’s one of the few guys who literally started out by selling music out of his car. He’s one of the biggest long shots to come out in recent memory.
Unlike Drake (Weezy, Trey Songz), J. Cole (Hov), CuDi (Ye), and Lupe (LA Reid and Hov), Wale made it with little to no major backing. True, Wale had a dope shoutout from Andre 3000 on a freestyle, and a verse from Lil Wayne (who doesn’t), but that’s pretty much it. No features on Kanye’s album, no appearances on hot remixes, no pseudo family-clique-squad-team to rely on. He’s gained a buzz off the strength of his talent, hard work and word of mouth.
By the time he dropped his 3rd mixtape, 2007’s 100 Miles and Runnin, Wale had caught the attention of Mark Ronson (which was probably better for his buzz in the UK than the US). It was one of the best mixtapes to come out in a long time, and at that point he was a legit contender. However, guys like Wale have to continue to prove themselves before they are given a chance. He followed that up with the critically acclaimed and Seinfeld inspired Mixtape About Nothing and then dropped the long awaited Back to the Feature before his album dropped.
Throw in early mixtapes Hate is the New Love and Paint a Picture and that’s 5 free doses of Wale before he finally drops the album. That’s why “Attention Deficit” doesn’t give that debut album vibe; it’s far from his debut.
Wale’s unique situation as an artist made this album unique in the sense that it simultaneously exceeded expectations while still not failing to disappoint. With all the music he’s put out throughout his career (even leaking tracks that didn’t make the album days before it dropped), people typically had high or low expectations for the album: either it’s going to be a classic or it’s going to suck.
Well, it’s neither. Its somewhere in the middle. A positive about the album is Wale added a lot of topical depth to the album. In fact, I don’t even think there was one reference to shoes or raw denim on this one. In place of those themes that were frequently discussed in his previous works are struggles with fame, complexion issues and relationships.
There aren’t that many failures on this album. Unfortunately for Wale, two of the songs that were misses were songs intended to broaden his fanbase. “Chillin” was mediocre and didn’t do much to help his buzz and “Let it Loose” featuring the Neptunes is in the same category. “Pretty Girls” features a go-go sample, similar to the music that helped introduce Wale and the DC sound to the masses on his earlier mixtapes, however, its almost ruined by an unfocused verse by Gucci Mane. “TV in the Radio” has a good contribution from Wale, but the beat and K’naan don’t do much for the song.
Besides those tracks, the album was really good. “World Tour” was a strong single-esque record that I’m surprised didn’t do more for him. “90210,” “Diary,” “Shades,” and “Contemplate” show Wale’s growth as an artist. “Mama Told Me,” “Prescription,” and even “Pretty Girls” (besides the Gucci Mane verse) will resonate heavily with Wale’s early fans. “Beautiful Bliss” is strong, even though J. Cole stole the show (again).
With 10/14 quality tracks on this album Wale has a success on his hands right? I’m not too sure. For him, going gold will be a triumph. While he probably has platinum ambitions, realistically it will be very hard to accomplish considering he doesn’t have many songs or videos getting heavy rotation.
Had there been modest expectations for Wale, this album would likely be perceived as a success. For guys like him who built their careers without much major support, this might be the apex. Underdogs like Wale succeed just by making the league. He’s that 5’5 NBA player or the pitcher in the big leagues without a 90 MPH fastball.
Yet, Wale should probably serve as a cautionary tale for most aspiring rappers. The odds of going from the trunk of your car to platinum records are very slim, especially if the type of music you put out isn’t mainstream.
That said, if you’re a fan of Wale or “backpack” music, then you’ll be very pleased with this album. Even those who aren’t fans of Wale should be able to get something out of this record. The production is strong and the lyrics are deep but not overwhelmingly complex.
If you were hoping for this to be Wale’s Reasonable Doubt, adjust your expectations. He gave us that a few years ago with 100 Miles and Running. This is his Vol 2. or Vol. 3. Solid, but not spectacular, smooth but not underwhelming; this album won’t be the album of the year but might stay in your rotation longer than any other 2009 release.