Due Out: November 10th
The hype surrounding hip-hop newcomers Drake, Kid Cudi and Wale has been at a fever pitch for months. From hit mixtapes, to skyrocketing singles, tours and collaborations with the likes of Kanye West, Jay-Z and Lil' Wayne, amongst others, all three have firmly entrenched themselves into our consciousness in the lead-up to their respective freshman releases. In the case of Wale's Attention Deficit however, the up-and-coming rapper has managed to temper some of the expectations surrounding his other two counterparts. Compared with the stratospheric bar set for Drake and Cudi, Wale has had the luxury of operating a little more under-the-radar. But has that been a boon to the finished product? There's no definitive answer, really.
Wale's debut is equal parts greatness and tragedy. Starting with the positive, the album is littered with radio-worthy singles, the likes of which you'll surely be hearing incessantly over the next few months. Tracks like "Pretty Girls" which features Gucci Mane, "Chillin'" with Lady Gaga and "Let It Loose" which features Pharrell are your standard pop-influenced hip-hop, made in the mold of nearly every hit of the past few years. And that's not to discredit the tracks either. The first two tracks, both of which have been heard by many listeners already, are not just lyrically sound, but musically appealing as well. The heavy beats in both, mixed with the electronic and jazzy background in "Pretty Girls" make for intriguing listens atypical of these types of releases. As much as the lyrics for "Let It Loose" lack, due to the overdone concept of girls partying with rappers, Pharrell's production skills more than compensate, and actually save the song from a far worse fate.
Away from the mainstream hip-hop sound he hones so well on the aforementioned songs, Wale also flirts with a ton of experimentation, mostly in the form of funk, R&B and jazz influences. As much as songs like the opener, "Triumph," and its successor, "Mama Told Me" are filled with heavy doses of lyrical braggadocio, one cannot fail to ignore the music flitting away behind it all. On the opener, it's scattershot percussion, saxophone and electronic organ guiding the way through a jazzy, relaxed scenery that would be the perfect introduction for an album that stayed on that level. Same goes for the second track, using cool, smooth R&B sampling and a steady staple of jazz elements to create a unique and interesting mashup of hip-hop and jazz.
But unfortunately for Wale, he fails to ever establish what Attention Deficit is essentially about. The tracks just discussed do draw positive attention-- either for popular appeal or instrumental execution-- but the underlying theme is a lack of a clear vision.
Other songs on the album are similarly schizophrenic. Emotional ballads like "90210" and "Contemplate" touch on real feelings and issues for the artist, and he actually seems quite comfortable expressing them. However, surrounding these selections are misguided efforts at being Mr. West, such as "Mirrors," featuring Bun B., and "World Tour," in which he holds the second-best contribution behind Jazmine Sullivan. Add in the continuous, unrelated pop culture name drops and sports references (at one point he actually talks about Chris Childs), and you're sort of wondering where to turn by the end.
It's not so much that something should be taken away from Wale's debut for his lack of direction, but when he excels so much on slower, more modest tracks ("Diary," "Beautiful Bliss"), yet insists on telling the world how good he is in a much less effective manner, it's hard not to be frustrated. Wale doesn't seem lost, so much as curious as to where his sound can take him. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, mind you. However, for many who are being exposed to the artist for the first time, it may be hard to tell what to expect from him.
On the final track, "Prescription," Wale approaches his last messages to us in the form of a more underground freestyle, over club-style jazz. As engaging as the background is, you end up getting distracted by his rhyming, which pales in comparison in this case. He also makes sure to tell us before it's over that his next album will be better. With time and experience under his belt for the next effort, I'd surely hope so for this up-and-coming face of hip-hop in the years to come. Similarities include Kid Cudi, J. Cole and Big Sean.
Best Track: "Pretty Girls" (Feat. Gucci Mane)
[Previously on Animal Noises: John's Track of the Week: "Chillin'" (Feat. Lady Gaga)]