Underground hip-hop reveres A Tribe Called Quest, but in a post-Kanye West world, there’s no longer any shame in both blowing up and going pop. Take Washington D.C.’s Wale, for example. After building a serious buzz through mixtapes like 100 Miles & Running and the vaguely Seinfeld-themed The Mixtape About Nothing—and after signing with Mark Ronson’s Allido label—Wale makes a power move from the underground to the mainstream with his major-label debut, Attention Deficit. Wale pays reverent homage to ATCQ with “World Tour,” then spends the rest of the album questing for radio spins and album sales with big hooks, top-tier production, and flashy guest stars like Bun B, Pharrell, and Lady Gaga. Gaga lends her new-wave robo-pipes to “Chillin,” a throwback slab of electro-funk that hijacks the snotty belligerence of Steam’s “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye,” while Pharrell handles the chorus on “Let It Loose.” Wale wades confidently into the tricky waters of racial identity on “Shades,” augmented by a lovely Chrisette Michele hook, and he offers a cautionary tale with “90210,” but mainly, it sounds like he’s having big fun. His swagger is infectious, his punchlines clever, and his flow loose and lively. Attention Deficit offers the best of both worlds; it’s pop music with integrity and brains. And, in the parlance of American Bandstand, you can dance to it!
More from The A.V. Club