Monday, November 30, 2009

Album Review: Wale - Attention Deficit

When it came to upcoming albums from the freshman Hip Hop class of 2009, there wasn't an album I was more excited to hear than Wale's. The uncompromisingly independent way he goes about doing his own thing in Hip Hop is admirable. He knows that his back is up against the wall when it comes to putting Washington, D.C. on the map since he doesn't have the ability to ride the coat-tails of other local Hip Hop pioneers...he is the pioneer...and he is well aware of that. Chris Richards of the Washington Post wrote a good article titled Wale Is Poised to Put D.C.'s Rap Scene in the Spotlight, summarizing the burden and torch that Wale is carrying in repping DC to the fullest, in hopes of opening doors for other local artists. In the article Wale quoted saying:

"I think every man has his own path," Wale says by phone (from his tour bus as he zig-zags the country opening for Jay-Z). "But if D.C. comes out and supports the album heavy, I think that within 365 days at least two [local] rappers will get a major deal."

That's a good amount of pressure he's putting on himself by making that statement. I've got a lot of respect for that too, especially because he's done it his own way without a lot of support from not only the Hip Hop history of his city, but also an industry heavyweight. For example, you see B.O.B. having worked with and been signed by T.I., Drake is signed and works closely with Lil Wayne, Kid Cudi has the Kanye influence and connection on his side...Wale though? Maybe producer Mark Ronson? As good of a producer Mark has been and continues to be (think Amy Winehouse - Rehab), he still doesn't have that same name recognition and clout that Wale could springboard off of.

Some will argue that now that Wale has opened up for Jay-Z on his recent Blueprint 3 tour dates (Source: Ace Showbiz), name recognition is coming. Still the diversity of collaborations on his album show that there are no boundaries in sight for Wale and he's taking the D.C. Go-Go style rapping to another level in an effort to create his own sound and platform for Hip Hop within the D.C. area.

As far as Attention Deficit is concerned, I've come to appreciate the diversity of sound Wale brought to the table. I'll admit at first, it was hard for me to find the "diamond in the rough" tracks on this album as I continued to keep it in iPod circulation, but a few separated themselves from the pack.

From the beginning, Wale starts off with Triumph, an upbeat, trumpet laden beat that creates a high energy backdrop for listeners to be able to get a feel for his lyrical style. The first track does a decent job at getting the listeners attention, only to hit the brakes on the next track where he slows it down with a live band feel on Mama Told Me . The song serves as an attention to Hip Hop that he has arrived and he's bringing something new for a "stagnant" Rap game. Pretty vanilla track in my opinion, but most likely one of the more "necessary" tracks lyrically for Wale to get off his chest.

The third track, Mirrors, is definitely one of my favorites, 1. Because Bun-B has always been one of my favorite artists and he killed it, but also 2. because it fits Wale's style so well. You can tell that he and Mark Ronson have a lot of chemistry working together and I was a little disappointed to see that he and Wale only worked together on two tracks for this album. The upbeat, rolling guitar-synth combo mixed with the occasional trumpet compliment the above average verses on the track, which as I said before is one of the hidden gems.

The fourth track was one of my favorite tracks on the album, mostly because of the chorus by Weensey of Backyard Band and the fact that Gucci Mane was NOT originally featured on the track. I won't give you the long winded version of my dislike for Gucci Mane, but I really don't get why he's blowin' up right now. I know he's put out a crazy amount of mixtapes and been featured almost as much as Weezy, but where's the quality in the quantity? Believe me, I myself love me some Southern Trap Rap (always been a big Youngbloodz fan), but Gucci really doesn't impress me much, I just don't get it. And yea I'll admit I do like his new track, Spotlight , but it's because of Polow Da Don's production and Usher's catchy hook. Anyways, that's neither here nor there, Wale shines, but the shine needs some Armor All after Gucci gets on it.

Movin' on to another really catchy, upbeat track that Wale sounds at home on with World Tour. Great choice for a single since it is so high energy and engaging, while still showcasing his ability to match the tempo with his verses, hitting the mark, bar after bar. Jazmine definitely doesn't hurt, gooooodness she's got that raspy soul that we haven't gotten a taste of since Mary J back in the day. Not the best track on the album, but probably his best performance and most likable song to the masses.

Yea there's absolutely no doubt that Let it Loose with Pharrell is hands down the best track on the album. The way Wale weaves through the bouncy Neptunes beat with his multi-syllabic, equally bouncy lyrical attack shows experience and talent beyond his years. Oh any by the way Pharrell, that bridge on the track is a GOOD LOOK! Definitely my favorite part of the album when he takes the song to baller status by sayin:

Now tell em,
It’s in the house, so throw your money in the air and stand in the couch
Laugh at the money that’s stuck in the chandelier
Tell them girls right there that the man right here!

Dipped in swag, amen P, between this and So Ambitious with Jay-Z, you are on a roll, back to being relevant and continuing to be known as one of the best at producing catchy party tracks.

Movin' with 90210, where Mark Ronson blesses us with a Nintendo sounding beat turned lullaby. The chemistry continues between Wale/Ronson and I'm not really sure where this track came from lyrically, but who knows maybe Wale has been spurned by the model types before, so he had to put them on blast a bit. Not one of my favorite tracks lyrically, but I'm not about to look down on him for venting about whatever caused him to pen the track...the storytelling angle was well done.

Shades is more of a laid-back smooth ride out track, showing a different side of Wale. A side that also works for Wale because just as he can pull off the fast paced verses, he can also sound very at home on a stop and go, bouncy mid tempo track where it can be more difficult to mesh the lines with the beat. Impressive delivery on this track, especially for a first album.

Personally, I like World Tour a little more than the next song Chillin' as a single choice, but I can see why including Lady GaGa on the chorus would only help the public appeal on the track. Definitely not scared to diversify the collabos, which is how it should be. The lack of allegiances is one of Wale's assets when it comes to him sounding unique and different. This is more on the pop side of the fence, but let's be honest you have to have a couple of these on an album to get it to sell copies these days. Decent track and much better than the next track Radio, which is about as much of a filler track as you can get. Sounds like a few of the earlier songs on the album with the trumpets (don't overdue it Wale, it's a good, unique sound, but too much can be bad).

The next two tracks Contemplate and Diary are the two biggest hidden gems on the album. Contemplate is a deep, thought provoking, lyrically analytical track that explores all the inner thoughts and insecurities of Wale. The Rihanna chorus is so simple it fits like a glove with the subject matter. Very well executed, not overdone and the end result is easy to appreciate as a result. Diary on the other hand is my second favorite track on the album. An ode to black women and the challenges and insecurities that men who try and date them have to face. The last Def Poetry Jam style verse that Wale drops is some classic shit:

See all I ever want to do is be relevant,
Just tell me that I ever meant,
Anything or that you could ever see me and you in another light,
But it's like the dark winter-endures the darkest nights,
By the wrong men,
Mostly all of them,
Have made you somewhat incapable,
Of a first impression,
What I do is channel my aggression,
With no cable,
Or antenna just intentions
To impress you,
If capable,
Hoping that the material possessions can materialize a better you,
Cars-nothing I drive
Can drive better this frame of mind
With such an ugly picture in the end,
Money-Nothing I buy
Can buy me more time
For your ears to say to your heart to listen
Diamonds-A girls best friend,
Is what they say,
But believe me with the right allegiance shorty you gonna shine anyways,
And every day that goes by is a couple more lines in her diary,
The day before is better than the present,
So anyone presented in her presence,
Endures these life...sentences,
No key for release,
No reason to be around,
Her mind's in the clouds,
She writes it all down,
In her diary... Diary - Wale

Big fan of the depth of lyrics and play on words while doing so...ain't nothin' more impressive these days that creative insight through poetry and Wale took us to the deep end with Diary. To sum up the song, c'mon ladies, just cause your man did this and that in your past relationship doesn't mean you have the right to assume I would do the same thing or make me feel bad for what he did to you in the past. Sometimes you have to forget to move on and find happiness because no man should have to pay for sins that your past man committed.

The last two tracks Beautiful Bliss and Prescription are two relatively bland tracks, but I will give a shout out to J Cole who killed his verse on Beautiful Bliss. The album definitely ends on a mellow tip, which I don't have a huge problem with due to the abundance of high energy tracks sprinkled throughout.

Music and album aside, Wale is doin' more work marketing than a lotta artists. For example, check the crispy 59 50 fitted he created:

GWDJ Verdict: Overall a very impressive debut album for Wale. I would have given it 4.5 headphones out of 5 on the rating had Bittersweet Life feat Colin Munroe and Letter feat John Mayer been included on the album instead of being throw in Bonus tracks. Nonetheless, Wale's album gave a shot of life to Hip Hop, going with a more contemporary, live band style of Hip Hop, which is becoming more common these days as some of the better up and coming rappers are stepping their game up both production wise and lyrically. I actually think when it comes to delivery, Wale has a step up on Kid Cudi and B.O.B.

As an aside, I'll comment that when you put it all together I still felt like Cudi's album > Wale's album because the amount of emotion Cudi poured into that creation was amazing and will continue to be amazing as I still have yet to take it out of my car cd player or iPod. Bobby Ray, you're up next and the bar has been set extremely high, so don't get Paul Pierce'd like Chris Bosh when he didn't come correct.

Oh and for the record Drake > Kid Cudi > Wale > B.O.B. currently for the viewers at home...Bobby Ray has the most potential to move up with a strong debut album due out in April and Drake...well...he may just end the discussion for best artists out of 2009 with his upcoming Thank Me Later project due out Valentines Day.

Here are a few of my favorite cuts from Wale's album too:

Wale feat Pharrell - Let it Loose

Wale feat Rihanna - Contemplate

Wale feat Marsha Ambrosius - Diary (Acoustic Version)

Wale feat Colin Monroe - Bittersweet Life


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