Every year it seems some rapper blows up and you cant turn your head with out seeing their face. This year is no exception as the Taylor Gang general and ganja aficionado [twitter=RealWizKhalifa]Wiz Khalifa[/twitter] has been on the cover of Rolling Stone and performed for his hometown football team the Pittsburgh Steelers. Thanks to his critically acclaimed Kush & OJ mixtape and the accompanying Waken Baken Tour, Wiz gained notoriety leading up to his signing with Atlantic Records. Now hanging out with the likes of Snoop Dogg, releasing his own rolling papers and dating Hip Hop groupie Amber Rose, Khalifa gives us his major label debut Rolling Papers.
One of the strengths of Khalifa has always been his beat selection, using beats that sound like no other artists and making them feel as if they were made just for him (ie The Thrill, Johnny Juliano tracks and the chill beats of Kush & OJ). However, this time Wiz has switched it up and gone for a more radio friendly approach. While many feel as though Wiz has ”sold out,” he has stayed true to his roots in this album by leaving the majority of the production to his long time collaborator and mentor E. Dan (as well as friend Big Jerm). While one cannot deny the overall popiness of the album, the beats are on point and fit Wiz’s voice and style perfectly. Even with a mainstream vibe, the beat selection has some diversity, from the acoustic ”Fly Solo” to the club banger ”On My Level” to the laid back vibe of ”The Race.” The weakness in the production comes from ”Top Floor,” which has an obnoxious constant sample sounding like a Middle Eastern version of Lil Wayne’s ”Let the Beat Build” from C3.
I’ve always said that expecting lyrical gems from Wiz is like expecting Mos Def to churn out club bangers, it’s just not what he does. However, the album does have its moments. The opening track ”When Im Gone” looks at the fast lane lifestyle of a famous rap star and even addresses these lyrical criticisms ”they say all I rap about, is bitches and champagne, you would too if every night you seen the same thing.” ”Star of the Show,” featuring fellow Taylor Chevy Woods, details the rise to stardom and ”Fly Solo” offers one of my favorite lines ”I had a dream the whole world was staring at me, I woke and wasn’t no one there.” So while there aren’t the witty punch-lines or rewind mashing metaphors, it’s far from Waka Flocka/Soulja Boy standards.
One of the things Wiz has done consistently is make entertaining music and Rolling Papers is no exception. Wiz goes to his ace in the hole with the Curren$y collab ”Rooftops,” however the ’I finally made it’ subject does get a little old, and so does the number of tracks aimed at the female demographic, but ”Get Your Shit” is quite amusing and ”Hopes and Dreams” is a nice, solid track. Wiz also accomplishes something many can not, taking two tracks with seemingly opposing titles, ”No Sleep” and ”Wake Up,” and making them fit the overall theme of the album without contradicting each other. Surprisingly, there is no weed song (unless you count ”On My Level”) which some people may see as a breath of fresh air, but with a title like Rolling Papers, you would think he would find room for at least one mary jane inspired track.
It may seem like a generous or overrated score, but with this album Wiz shows his versatility (this is his pop album, Cabin Fever was a club banger, Flight School, How Fly and Burn After Rolling all came out in 09 and all have completely different styles). Many consider Rolling Papers to be a disappointment but my only complaint is the fact that numerous tracks had hit the web before Rolling Papers was even announced. I applaud Wiz on not filling the tracklist with features for his major label debut as well as doing all his own hooks. Not to mention, he stayed with a Taylor Gang affiliate Chevy Woods, long time friend and collaborator Curren$y and then making his only other feature West Coast legend Too Short. It seems a little hypocritical that Atlantic label-mate Lupe Fiasco can drop a pop heavy album a few weeks before Rolling Papers and receive positive feedback just because of its lyricism. It’s only speculation, but Atlantic may have had their hands all over Rolling Papers just like they did Lasers, regardless, the only weakness of the album that I see are ”Roll Up” and ”Top Floor.” On the other hand, ”The Race” is one of Wiz’s best tracks along with ”Rooftops,” making them the highlights of the album. Personally, I’m disappointed at how many fans turned their backs on Wiz Khalifa because of this album which leads me to believe that if this album proved anything, it is that loyalty is dead, not Hip Hop.
Wiz Khalifa’s Rolling Papers is available for purchase on iTunes, here.
Sidenote: Before I begin the review I have a small statement regarding the album. When offered the job of reviewing this album I hesitated, because of the negative feedback I’ve heard about the album, I figured, what’s the point? These people have clearly already made up their minds about Wiz and the album so why bother? But as a long time Wiz fan I felt I had to defend my second favorite rapper (I realize the bias this presents but I tried to review it as objectively as possible). And seeing as my first review received a lot of positive feedback i figured it was the perfect time to give one I’m sure will not be as popular. For the record, this is my least favorite of all his albums and mixtapes.