The rookie of the year, as suggested by some, is out to prove that he is worthy of that prestigious title with Rolling Papers. What most people don’t know is that Wiz Khalifa has been in the game since 2005 when he released his first mixtape independently in partnership with Rostrum Records. A few independent mixtapes and albums later, Khalifa found himself working on his first major label debut under Warner Bros. Records. Cut to two years in the future and Khalifa was packing up his bags and on his way out of Warner Bros. in search of a label that would give him more freedom as an artist. Almost a year later he released his now legendary mixtape for download, Kush & OJ. This compilation of what was considered some of the rappers best work yet shot him to the top of everyone’s up-and-coming list. This lead to a signing with Atlantic Records, the release of his number one single “Black and Yellow,” and super stardom within the hip-hop community. The expectations for Rolling Papers were high, and the pressure was on for Khalifa to deliver music that appeals to both his loyal ‘Taylor Gang’ fan base and the mainstream crowd. Wiz attempts just this, but falls short and hits a roadblock on his road down Taylor Gang domination.
The biggest complaint that you are going to hear from anyone that listens to Rolling Papers is that it sounds like a pop album at times; something Atlantic Records is notorious for when it comes to molding their artists. The nature of who Wiz Khalifa is and what his music stands for doesn’t go well with these flat beats and pop sounding anthems. The album kicks off with a minute long piano arrangement on “When I’m Gone.” It sounds nice and sets the tone, which is completely destroyed by Khalifa’s flat lyrics: “And they say all I rap about is b-tches and champagne/you would to if every night you see the same thing/money wall to wall, young famous n-gga/spend it all when you die you can’t take it witchya’…” At best, these lyrics are mixtape quality, and possess no compelling reason to keep listening to the rest of what Rolling Papers has to offer. On the next track, “On My Level,” Khalifa slobs over a beat that sounds like it was produced to put listeners to sleep. The lyrics are awful, and things take a turn for the worst when legend Too $hort delivers a less than stellar verse. Moving on to two of the albums most popular tracks, “Black and Yellow” and “Roll Up,” which provide some needed relief. However, these tracks have already had an excess amount of exposure, especially “Black and Yellow,” but the inclusions strengthen the track list a bit.
Some of the production on Rolling Papers is actually pretty good and of high quality. If there is one beat that works with Khalifa’s voice and tone, it’s “Hopes and Dreams.” It might be yet another song about money and girls, but Wiz sounds relaxed and in the zone. If anything, it’s a track his long time fans should be able to get into. However, the exact opposite can be said about the next track, “Wake Up.” The beat is awkward, cheesy and completely clashes with Khalifa’s monotonous tone. Towards the end of the track, he puts on his singing voice in order to reiterate the already bewildered theme of the song: “I can take you up higher than you ever know/let you touch want you want, hit it once and you won’t let go/hell no, let you lean back inhale smoke…” Why any producer, or Wiz himself, thought this was a good idea is beyond me.
Smack in the middle of the track list, two songs stand out as some of the better tracks on Rolling Papers, but that of course isn’t saying much. “The Race,” is, yet again, another song about weed, cars and girls but the beat is tight and works well with Khalifa’s flow. It also doesn’t hurt that his word play is tight, along with a catchy hook. Cut to a short skit, that serves no purpose in the transition, and then “Star Of The Show” starts to play, another one of the better tracks. The wordplay and rhymes are once again solid: “The best moments of my life/never peeled this much plastic off a polo in my life/rarely gon’ to seen, smkoin’ with your wife/plus anything I want I can afford to buy it twice/it’s the way we know, wake up in the morning like where did all of my paper go…” Same repetitive theme, but at least the rhymes are there, and provide something that his fans can rock with.
After that short intermission of decent Wiz material, Rolling Papers hops right back into a downward spiral. The beats, lyrics, concepts; some of the worse you will hear all year from any major hip-hop/rap album. “Get Your Shit” contains one of the worst chorus’/hooks in recent memory. The combination of the lyrics: “Pack your stuff, leave my keys/get your shit, gotta go,” along with the blaring beat that plays will have you wondering how this song found its way on a hip-hop album. Then comes the worst song on the album, “Fly Solo.” It instantly sounds like a country record and gets even worse when Khalifa tries to find a flow that fits the tune.
Wiz Khalifa definitely has talent, and a huge fan base to boast, but is most likely under the control and pressure of Atlantic Records. After the success of “Black and Yellow” it was pretty much expected that Khalifa’s first major label debut with Atlantic would be a pop/rap centric album. It’s a shame, because he could have created some content reminiscent of his earlier work, and potentially something beyond that. Beyond the constant raps about weed, sex, girls and cars, Wiz has the skill needed, and if he plans to win over more fans throughout his career he’s going to have to get more creative than the content offered on Rolling Papers.