Jeff Weiss has an essay on his blog, the Passion of the Weiss, about rapper Wale and what his career says about the current state of hip-hop. Wale first started attracting attention from outside his hometown of Washington, D.C., a couple of years ago with a string of solid, smart mix tapes on which he combined anthemic, classic-sounding hip-hop tracks like "Nike Boots" with raps set to songs by Justice and Amy Winehouse, which earned him a fan base that included both hipsters and people who spend too way much time reading hip-hop blogs (though I suppose there's some overlap between the two). He's since graduated—if that's the right word—to Interscope, which yesterday released his first proper album, Attention Deficit.
It's a flawed album—which, as Weiss shows with a couple of telling quotes, Wale is pretty much willing to admit. (When Weiss tells Wale he did "a good job, considering," Wale replies, "Man, when I get to the level of a Kanye or a 50, I'm really going to show people what I can do.") Attention Deficit has some great material that shows off Wale's adventurous tastes, and the two songs with beats by Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio aren't nearly the kind of hipstersploitation that a hip-hop/TVOTR crossover might suggest. The album also has some really blatant grabs at pop-chart crossover—off-pitch cameos by Gucci Mane and Lady Gaga, for instance—that don't work nearly as well (and that Weiss suggests happened at Interscope's insistence).
The sad thing is that Wale's compromises don't even seem to be accomplishing much for him. He's sacrificed a lot in order to get into a position where Interscope could turn him into the next big thing in rap, but his Twitter yesterday was full of retweets reporting on the absence of Attention Deficit in big-box stores all over the country. And those are the exact retailers his major-label deal was supposed to help him conquer.