There was a lot of potential for Wale, a D.C.–based rapper that had a world of opportunities in front of him. In typical fashion, employing their eye for talent and ear for music, The Roots featured him on Rising Up’s bumping, lively closer, “Rising Down.” After Black Thought had set everything up for him with a few high-caliber verses and Chrisette Michele (another singer The Roots brought to the forefront,) did her share of fine singing, Wale was allowed to show up, deliver a few smart lines and then hide away while the rest of the band jived and grooved away.
A modest entry-way into the highly competitive world of hip-hop MCing, it opened a few doors that led to variously different journeys. Last year, Wale decided to release his mixtape about nothing, an ode to the famed “Seinfeld” show that collected some of the best lyrics, verses and pure rapping on any album from 2008. It showcased a hungry and humble MC; one that appeared poised and ready to hit the scene with a composed, equally brilliant LP.
Fast-forward to 2009 where we are finally greeted with Wale’s Attention Deficit. Honestly, the best way to take in his arch as a musician would be start at one of his earlier mixtapes, go to The Roots’ album, work through and dissect The Mixtape About Nothing and then show up at this debut and be ready for shock. A shock in the uttermost worst way because Wale has suffered from the over-production, guest-crammed, lack-of-ideas style that usually follows with a major label release. On that aforementioned mixtape, he would confidently boast “And if you love substance you’ll love Wale,” but he lied to us, because there is no substance on here.
Disappointment is the first word that comes to mind and really, you have to wonder where the real people that helped him get here, have gone to. On “90210,” Wale enlists the help of Mark Ronson to create Kanye West-copped beats that lack any kind of fire or energy. Even when Wale is trying his best to furiously rip apart his lines, the cheesy polished sound and synthetic fakeness of the melody destroys everything in its path. Even Dave Sitek shows up to fill a few songs with braised horns and phoned in beats on the goofily titled, “TV in the Radio.” K’naan’s words are wasted and they mostly come up short on a song that not only sounds atrocious but is, unusually, entirely out of place.
For some reason, instead of tackling those difficult, tension-filled issues that most expected, Attention Deficit is all about Wale tooting his own horn. On the aforementioned K’naan feature, the two rappers ask how hip-hop got soft before being greeted with the answer when the trite, lamely born “Let It Loose” shows up. The Neptunes lent/gave their best beats to Clipse’s crowning Hell Hath No Fury but on the one song they contribute to on here, they fill it with confusing female “heys,” a synth line that lacks their trademark monstrous bass and lines like “if you get money, yeah, is she getting money, no.” Often, you find yourself asking, “How is this the same person that made darkly amazing music that touched on socially-conscious moments like ‘The Kramer?’”
Maybe it’s the producer-by-committee problem, maybe it is the move to a major label or maybe it’s just a need to be revitalized and brought back down to Earth – personally, it’s all of that. But when you have Lady Gaga doing her best M.I.A. on “Chillin” then you know there is a problem somewhere. Either way, it’s a sad dilemma and more over, an unworthy release for an MC that is blessed with undeniable talent.