“Yeah, they keep sayin’ ‘Whale’ but my name ‘Wa-lay,’ ” raps Wale on his studio debut, Attention: Deficit. Born Olubowale Victor Akintimehin to Nigerian immigrant parents, Wale can’t be faulted for taking on a simpler stage name, even if its pronunciation is less than obvious. And despite the name change, he’s certainly not trying to hide his African identity, which shows up throughout Deficit, adding color and variety to an already far-reaching endeavor.


Attention: Deficit

Deficit opens with the brassy track “Triumph,” which channels Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti. Produced by Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio, “Triumph” toes the same heavy-yet-uplifting line as some of TVOTR’s songs, but it’s set apart by its horn-driven instrumentation and delightfully clever rhymes like “Me against you / The movie of the year / Cause you slumdog / And I’m the millionaire.”

The other Sitek-produced track is “TV in the Radio.” Also sax-powered and Afrobeat-inspired, the song features Somali rapper K’naan in a creative tirade against posturing and poseur boasts in rap music.

But despite his stylistic influences, Wale isn’t an “African rapper.” He pumps R&B and mainstream hip hop into his playful tunes, and he makes more shout-outs to his hometown of Washington, D.C. than he does to Nigeria. Ultimately, what sets Wale apart from the crowd is not his unique background but his witty lines and relaxed, confident delivery.

Refreshingly timely and precise lyrics pop up throughout Deficit, as Wale name-checks everyone and everything from McLovin’ to the H1N1 virus. At the end of “Prescription,” he jokingly disses The Roots (who featured him in one song on their album “Rising Down”) in a series of puns on each member’s name.

Wale can set an affecting scene, as in “90210,” a surprisingly original story of a bulimic Beverly Hills wannabe. The crisp, concise synth background exposes the inner thoughts of a girl whose clean-cut “dream of the fame or a ring on her finger” doesn’t mesh with the smoggy, extravagant reality of Los Angeles. Wale’s empathetic portrait makes a well-worn subject new.

But Wale is equally comfortable channeling a lighthearted dance vibe, like on “Pretty Girls” (“Ugly girls be quiet (quiet) / Pretty girls clap (clap) like this”), or a moody R&B-tinged reflection, like on down-tempo “Contemplate,” which coolly considers an unfaithful girlfriend.

It’s clear from Attention: Deficit that Wale is a romantic. Several of his songs are stories of women victimized by the world. Others deal with Wale’s conflicted feelings about women. Even “Shades,” a bouncy, poppy-but-personal consideration of race, has him talking about a botched relationship with a white girl by the end of the first verse. He also features as many female as male artists, and the album definitely feels more balanced because of it.

But Wale doesn’t try to tackle anything too serious on Deficit. This is a fun album at heart, which is most evident on “Chillin,” a made-for-the-frats grinder that samples Steam’s “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.” Above a thumping, party-hardy beat, Lady Gaga does her best swaggering M.I.A. impression between energetic verses. The track finds Wale bragging “I got the right to be cocky / Get so much cut, disc jockeys jock me.”

Yeah, he has the right to be cocky. Already a star in our nation’s capital, Wale shouldn’t worry about people pronouncing his name wrong. With his smart and accessible style, soon the name Wale is something we’re going to be hearing all the time.

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