Wale - "Mirrors (feat. Bun B)" (Attention: Deficit)
It’s “wah-LAY.” He’s not the goofballs who brought you “Hobo Humpin’ Slobo Babe.” He’s a smart, hungry MC from DC, and, with Attention: Deficit, he gives the Chocolate City its long-overdue star on the hip-hop map.
It’s hard to imagine a rap debut that tries harder than this to be an all-encompassing State of the Music Union address. It’s got a guest-list like a Matthew Barney opening. British producer/Svengali Mark Ronson! NYC art-school in-joke Lady Gaga! TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek! (Look what he did for that Scarlett Johansson record!) Gucci Mane! For a guy who made his bones as a go-go-throwback mixtape workaholic, this bar mitzvah looks to be a bit much, at least on paper. “Sprawling” isn’t the word.
Yet, the thing holds together remarkably well, thanks to Wale’s upstart charisma and remarkable versatility. He didn’t make all these blue-chip pals by fucking around. That album title isn’t a self-deprecating gag; he’s legitimately angry about the fragmented, desperate, asinine condition of pop music circa now, and wants to bring back holographic storytelling and creative courage. (“If hip-hop need a wakeup, we the fucking clock radio.”) And damned if he doesn’t succeed, most of the time – not as a NYOil-y demagogue, but as the host of a party that, despite its bizarre invite list, ends up being a good, clean, galvanizing buzz.
Unlike a few of his colleagues, Wale is well aware of his own insecurities, and not afraid to play on them. He doesn’t leak; he bleeds loud and proud. The Tribe-Called-Quest-nodding how-I-made-it brag session “World Tour” digresses into a recap of a shitty show in Scotland. In lieu of store-brand misogyny, “Shades” confesses a lifetime of dating woes anchored in skin-tone paranoia. The Ronson-laced “90210” (“She throws up whatever she eats / She leaves the bathroom with a nosebleed / Regular girl / Celebrity dreams”) joins a proud line of gooey, condescending pity-the-slut PSAs (the Ying Yang Twins did one, too), but it’s much more forthcoming about its internal conflicts – despite his admitted social awkwardness, Wale has no problem drawing a three-dimensional female character. The slinky, suspicious “Mirrors,” produced by Ronson and featuring the unfuckwithable Bun B, comes closer than anything else to a multi-faceted look at the “hater” pathology.
But Wale never lets shit get too heavy. His self-conscious humanity is all fine and good, but his swaggering, charmingly overeager delivery is perfectly suited for locker-room shit-talk, which he does best over party-hearty DC go-go beats. (See the cheekily titled “TV in the Radio,” or the smirking come-ons of “Pretty Girls” and the “Let It Loose (Inhibitions),” which spits game over the tightest Pharrell beat since the Clipse record.)
Wale probably can’t single-handedly save the industry, but that’s the industry’s loss.