Attention: Deficit [Review]

It is difficult for one to put to words the quality of Wale’s debut album, Attention: Deficit.  Ever since I downloaded the leak last Friday (mind you, not so I didn’t have to pay for it, I’ve already pre-ordered a copy of the album, but in order to hear it sooner), it has been in near constant rotation on my iPod despite the other very high quality recent releases such as K. Sparks’ Super Senior and Lil’ Wayne’s No Ceilings

This album doesn’t sound like the freshman debut that it is, but instead reflects the refinement of Wale’s craft that comes with the release of five critically acclaimed mixtapes over the past five years and numerous guest appearances.  For the Washington, D.C. emcee, it’s all lead to this, the culmination of all of his blood, sweat, and tears up until this point has resulted in an album that I would dare call a classic.

As a landmark album, Attention: Deficit necessitates, or rather demands, multiple listens to gain perspective on the album as a whole.  The first time through (at least for this reviewer), the listener tends to wait for the instrumentals to draw us into the lyrics.  As such, upon first listen, “Triumph” and “Mirrors,” two of the better tracks lyrically on the album, are harsh on the listener with instrumentals that are, at first, too distinct from what the mainstream is used to.  Once you adjust yourself to the instrumentals, the listener begins to appreciate the first three tracks for what they are—quirky beats with an even quirkier sense of humor.

The fourth track, “Pretty Girls,” has been floating around the Internet since July and has gotten plenty of my spins on my iPod in the time since.  It’s difficult at first to hearing it sandwiched between two tracks after hearing it solo for so long, but after a few listens one adjusts.  It’s also not the best track lyrically on the album, but still maintains that quirky sense of humor and one will forgive Wale for his single (I’ve never judged Hova on the basis of his singles).

The last ten tracks of the album are nearly flawless, even on first listen.  The production on these tracks is notably more mainstream and amplifies the lyrics on first listen (production on the album as a whole is superb).  “World Tour” proves to be a worthy modern interpretation of A Tribe Called Quest’s classic “Award Tour,” while “90210” and “Shades” provide a very powerful 1-2 punch in the middle of the album dealing with the very modern issues of body image and race.

“Shades” may well be the most powerful track on the album as it deals with race as not just a black and white issue, but as an often forgotten factor of shades within race.  In the song, Wale admits to have cheated on his light-skinned girlfriend out of feelings of inadequacy he felt due to his darker skin tone stating that “I’d never let a light broad hurt me/ that’s why I strike first and the first cuts deep.”  Eventually he reaches the beautiful conclusion in the form of the Chrisette Michele-sung chorus:

From a light-skinned girl to a dark-skinned brother/ Shade doesn’t matter, heart makes the lover.

This track is immediately followed by the Lady Gaga-assisted, “Chillin’,” a track I was originally hesitant about after hearing the remix on the Back to the Feature mixtape.  But the Cool & Dre production on this version makes all the difference and turns it into an upbeat song that showcases Lady Gaga’s M.I.A.-esque lyrics that have permeated hip hop as of late and Wale’s numerous one-liners (You niggas mad that you not me/ I remain a Giant and you Jeremy Shockey), but more importantly, “Chillin’” and the following track “TV in the Radio” serve to break up a series of tracks from “90210” to the end of the album that would otherwise be too similar tempo-wise.  Both tracks are great in their own right, but in the scope of the album as a whole, they serve to satisfy and keep the attention of the (applicably) Attention Deficit-ridden hip hop heads.

It is important to note the cohesive feel the album has despite widely differing subject matter and instrumentals (something I’ve rarely heard since The Black Album).  A mistake that many artists make is rhyming over instrumentals that are of too similar tempo, resulting in their album being incredibly cohesive, while at the same time taking it’s toll on the listener.  It is for this reason that I have a tough time listening to albums like Skyzoo’s The Salvation and Atmosphere’s When Life Gives You Lemons, Paint That Shit Gold.  It isn’t that the songs on these albums are not individually good, but that they don’t stand out as a whole.

What makes Attention: Deficit stand out is it’s ability to blend different sounds into a cohesive album and still keep the listener’s attention (something that Wale claims was the purpose of Attention: Deficit on the appropriately titled “Prescription”).  It is for this reason that “Chillin’” and the subsequent track succeed in the album as a whole—they provide their own distinct style that breaks up the heavy tracks surrounding them.  This allows the listener to appreciate tracks like “90210,” “Shades,” “Contemplate,” and “Diary” (a song that echoes of Nas’ “Black Girl Lost”).

The scale of Attention: Deficit is epic—it takes us to the genre’s past with “World Tour,” the reinterpretation of “Award Tour,” to the present with “Chillin’” before showing us a glimpse of the future on the penultimate track “Beautiful Bliss” in which he trades verses with fellow up and coming star J. Cole (it should be noted that this is the only track where Wale doesn’t outshine his guest on the album, but it’s easily forgiven as J-Dot is one of the hungriest and lyrically-inclined emcees in the game today).  All of this leads to the thesis of the album, which he presents, on the final track of the album:

“I am hip hop,” says Wale on the final seconds of the album, “Past, Present, and Future.  I can rap on some old Preemo, sound like the present Sigel, and make it feel like a sequel to the new me, bitch.  I’m Wale.  The Prescription.”

With the album he’s put forth, it’s hard to argue with him.  Attention: Deficit is the best, most complete album I’ve heard in the six years since Jay dropped The Black Album and I dare call it better than Food & Liquor, better than Space Music, better than OB4CLII.  This is an album that is a category only with albums like Reasonable Doubt, 36 Chambers, and Illmatic—a classic debut by a classic artist that redefines what it means to make good hip hop in the post-commercialized genre.


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