The hip-hop game has certainly changed since the days of Biggie and Shakur. It doesn’t take a critic to tell you that, but the question that needs to be asked is, “Is this change for the better?” Mixtapes aren’t anything new, with the likes of Jay-Z releasing bootlegs back in the day, but you would be ignorant to deny the importance of the Internet in hip-hop. Lil Wayne has been using the Internet as his bottom bitch for years, being a self-proclaimed “mixtape king,” with many considering one of his best ever releases to be a mixtape – Da Drought II. This says two things: 1) Lil Wayne is either so good that he can afford to chuck around some of his best material on a mixtape that won’t be widely distributed due to not being an official release, and/or 2) the mixtape is a miraculous marketing ploy that displays a rapper’s best works, creating hype for the album.
That’s the problem; the modern day up-and-coming rapper is burning himself out before reaching his first album. Cleveland MC Kid Cudi shot into the limelight with his mixtape, A Kid Named Cudi, and it rightly so garnered a lot of critical acclaim. When word started spreading of his debut having guest appearances by Ratatat and MGMT, it was hard not to get excited. However, at the end of the day, the album was slightly disappointing and didn’t have the magic that the mixtape had threaded throughout. This is, unfortunately, where Wale fits into the puzzle.
If you were to subscribe to the notion that the mixtape is a great marketing tool, a medium with which to build hype, then Wale adheres to that criteria quite appropriately. Five mixtapes and a supporting slot for Jay-Z with N.E.R.D. before even releasing a debut album is, undeniably, a pretty big achievement. However, to put this simply: Attention Deficit just isn’t as good as some of Wale’s mixtapes.
Admittedly, that sounds like a bad thing – and perhaps even a bit dismissive – but the truth of the matter is, Attention Deficit is still an extremely resilient hip-hop album. Musically, it is nothing short of brilliance, and of course, it’s a bit hard not to be brilliant when you employ the likes of TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek and Best Kept Secret, with guest appearances from Lady Gaga and The Neptunes. The choice of producers is almost perfect, with the immediacy of some tracks being unbelievable at times, as songs such as “Chillin” and “90210” being almost guaranteed pop hits. The array of genre integration is also impressive, as Wale attempts to combine a series of genres and place them under the hip-hop umbrella.
What’s disturbing about the album, however, is that – well – it seems to religiously channel Kanye West. It’s almost eerie. Regardless of your opinions on West’s Graduation, Attention Deficit feels like its spiritual successor. Even his melodic mannerisms are analogous of West, which is most certainly not a negative thing. Take the second track, “Mama Told Me,” which makes use of some very ’60s-sounding brass and string samples, as Wale raps something over the top. And that is the biggest concession with Attention Deficit: the rhymes. He lyrically falters at times, with the very opening line of the album being far too common in contemporary rap, with everyone from Blakroc and Jay-Z dropping lines about not being “politically correct.” Lil Wayne summated it best in “Dr. Carter,” quoting Kanye: “Reciting something cause you like it, so you say it just like it.” However, there is nothing worth reciting in Wale’s verses at all. Sure, his vocal hooks in the numerous choruses are immaculate, but he lacks some significant flow.
At the end of the day, Wale’s album raises a lot of questions about how the rap game has changed, and not all of them can can truly be answered by Olubowale Akintimehin (his real name). He significantly holds up the bar for contemporary hip-hop production, but he doesn’t necessarily surpass the weight he can hold. It’s not to say that Attention Deficit is a bad album, as it’s truly an admirable effort. However, it’s just a shame that the rhymes are seemingly effortless – and not in the positive way. The enjoyment that one may gain from this album will also depend on a number of factors, but the most pivotal will be the familiarity with Wale’s discography. If you’ve religiously followed Wale from the days of “Dig Dug,” then this will be a mediocre experience. However, if this is your first taste of the D.C. MC, then you’ll find Attention Deficit to be quite rewarding.