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Diamond District vs. Wale
February 5, 2010, 4:09 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Now that I have had some time to absorb both projects from these D.C area artists…

* Wale – Attention Deficit

Apparently, Wale has been toiling in the underground for 10 years (??) but to hear his official full length debut on Allido Records (Mark Ronson’s label) I wouldn’t have guessed it.  The one characteristic that did seem to back up this tenure in the game is the confidence with which he delivers his rhymes.

Wale’s simple flow is intelligible and therefore easy to follow for your average listener.  This coupled with his witty lyrics allows one to appreciate the deliberate tone and pace that is his style.  Rather that just come out with bar after bar of lyrical, emcee-based product, Wale’s debut succeeds at being an album of good concepts and composed material that is pristinely produced.  However, this by nature also forces the LP to sound sterile and safe.

The production on the album was handled by a host of people (Mark Ronson, Dave Sitek, Neptunes, Cool & Dre plus 9 others) and isn’t your typical boom bap fare.  Some of the beats skew the traditional sample based loops and venture into more of a pop-esque territory (see the MIA/Santigold-souding, but Lady Gaga-assisted single “Chillin”…it IS catchy as hell though) which may be the best bu$ine$$ move but, it takes away from the essence of a rapper’s grit and edginess.

A highlight of the overall project is the sing along melodies interlaced throughout a handful of songs making the choruses and therefore tracks very memorable.  I couldn’t help but think that Mark Ronson’s penchant for picking out great melodies and helping artists put on a great performance were the reasons he has final say as Executive Producer (that and that he bankrolled the project with his clout).

Wale would have been better to chop down the number of collaborators and put together a project that embodies the unique starting point of an artist in development.  “Attention Deficit” was over produced.  Wale’s style would have benefited from an ol’ dusty jazz loop, the thump/crack of the drum kit and a little space to just rip it.

This album suffers from the “too many hands in the pot” syndrome.  It lacked unison and identity.  There were too many production styles and very few of them mesh with Wale’s laid back cadence.  He’d be better to stick with 1 or 2 producers who can accommodate his style (check the 45 King produced “Roof” as proof).

His 5 circulated mixtapes dating back to 2005 (which I have not heard – I am not a fan of mixtapes) may have already let the crowd know what he was lyrically about but the lack of grime on his wider released major label premiere left me unable to connect to his tales – no matter what the subject was.  At least his heart in the right place.  For all the gloss the project carries, Wale does try to maintain an “everyman” type of appeal.

Stand outs: Triumph, Pretty Girls, Let it Loose, Diary

Beats: 6 out of 10

Emcee: 6 out of 10

Overall: 7.5 out of 10

* Diamond District – In The Ruff

People were talking about this album bringing back the glory days of hip hop.  I guess in a sense that is true because the boom baps on this project hark back to the days when a 16 bar loop (with a couple change ups), maybe a small bridge before the hook and real emcees were all you needed to put together a great piece of audio art.  But, the flows, rhymes and content are completely updated for the 2010.

“In the Ruff” is a perfect example of how today’s hip hop sound in both music and rhymes can be edgy without having to fake at being “hard”.  Having had his own track record working with artists like Jazzy Jeff, Talib and Little Brother, Oddisee works the boards as producer and spearheaded this project from the jump (he also raps on it).  It takes some really banging beats to have me stop focusing in on the emcees and to start paying attention to the sound bed from the first spins. But Oddisee does just that with his mix of samples, hard/crisp drums and steady BPMs that I would call more of a hip hop foundation than a “throwback sound”.

It took me a minute to pick up on the identities of the emcees appearing next to Odd.  Part of the reason was because they go by letters as their stage name (X.O and Y.U).  But, the raps on these cats are on some non-basic pattern, futuristic, straight faucet flow…so, they can call themselves whatever the hell they want.  Their rhyme schemes keep a listener guessing as to when they are gonna bend the words back to fit the beats.  Their subject matters cover classic topics like neighborhood life and their love of hip hop with a crazy honest and respectable tone.

Out of the 16 tracks, 12 of them are iller than the swine flu.  It makes me think that if they would of pared down the album to a 10 or 11 track LP…we might be talking true modern hip hop classic here.

Stand outs: First 3 tracks…boom, boom, boom… Streets Won’t Let Me Chill, Who I Be and Back to Basics, In the Ruff

Beats: 8.0 out 10

Emcee: 8.0 out 10

Overall: 8.4 out 10

It’s ironic, the reason why DD works more than Wale is due to what Wale was missing on his solo debut.  Hip Hop cohesion.  Wale missed his chance to make a full hip hop record and DD didn’t have the opportunity to guarantee it on the radio or store shelves.

UPDATE:  After only leaving five “Attention Deficit” tracks on my player, I  have noticed that I have been playing them over and over because they are interesting rap “lite” songs that are easily digestible and fun.  I don’t know if it’s my maturity (I’ve never really been into “fun” and “digestible” music before) or the evolution of how music is consumed nowadays but when I listen to “In the Ruff” it is not an album of singles.  It is a complete hip hop work of art.  This makes it hard for me to skip around the project.  So plan an hour long trip somewhere and just hit play.

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