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Wiz Khalifa “Rolling Papers” Review

Weed enthusiasts are a unique breed. I don’t mean potheads, but people who plan their entire lives around pot; those who roll out of bed, spin Black Sunday for their wake-n-bake session, and make it a point to spark praise for the plant on no less than half a dozen times throughout the day. Those who don’t just smoke trees, but nurture the cottage industry built around the lifestyle. It’s important to remember that this market exists when listening to Wiz Khalifa’s new album Rolling Papers. Not because the album is entirely about smoking weed, and not because Wiz is already this generation’s chosen poster boy for the subculture, but because he’s established himself as a prime candidate to carry the torch (so to speak) for years to come. And as that fanbase has proven in the past, if you roll with them, they’ll roll with you… for life.

Since dropping his Kush & OJ mixtape last summer Wiz Khalifa has been on fire. The man has already survived being spit out from the industry gauntlet once before, has aligned himself with established veterans, pushed a single to the top of the charts with minimal corporate support and has solidified a name for himself as one of the sharpest young stars in rap right now. But in keeping all that in mind, as well as his blossoming role as a celebrity within a niche community, an important distinction appears which must be emphasized: Rolling Papers isn’t the product of an MC, but of a star.

While musically consistent throughout, early on the album reveals two outlying tracks which don’t fall in line with the rest of Rolling Papers. The first comes with the dark beat of “On My Level.” Thematically, Khalifa and Too $hort aren’t doing much here aside from maybe pushing the boundaries of just how much a song can only be about getting fucked up. Wiz raps about drinking while Too $hort later beams about getting sloppy, “Cocaine, mushrooms, ecstasy, GHB, marijuana/She can suck it if she wanna.” It’s not the finest moment on Rolling Papers, and is only made to look that much more unnecessary when followed by the anthemic “Black and Yellow.” Serving as the other unmatched track, the lead single offers more energy than is really heard again throughout Rolling Papers. This is a shame because had the album included another couple heavy bangers it might not suffer from becoming too relaxed.

The Stargate-produced “Roll Up,” which follows “B&Y,” flows nicely, but it sets precedent very early on for the level of engagement which the album demands; which is to say, very little at all. “Hopes and Dreams” isn’t boring, but it further depresses the album’s momentum, leading to a noticeable slump in pace: “Wake Up” is driven by light, airy synth while the crisp beat of “Star of the Show” slowly creeps and the relatively booming bass of “Top Floor” is equalized by its non-existant tempo. None are bad tracks, but they’re only surface-deep in their appeal.

“Get Your Shit” finds the MC advertising his “new girl” over R&B-toying production, and “Rooftops” finds Khalifa tossing out empty taunts, “You tryin’ to copy, I’m tryin’ to innovate,” while failing to lyrically innovate, himself: “Used to not be allowed in the building but now we on the rooftop.” It’s difficult not to think “frat-rap” with “Fly Solo” as the song’s Jack Johnson-like acoustic guitar lazily works with minimal synth in crafting a base for Khalifa’s soft bars; perfect music for hangin’ with your bros. “Cameras” closes the album by doing the pop thing while raising musical similarities to Lupe’s “Superstar” in the process. There’s really not much else going on there.

Looking back to the beginning: Rolling Papers opens with “When I’m Gone,” which introduces the album with a piano build up, a relaxed vibe and a mellow hook which complement Khalifa’s introspective lyrics about his public persona—or at least as introspective as the MC might be capable of. Throughout the LP Khalifa never fails to add a few sharp bars along the way to avoid the limp-MC tag—”I’m sippin’ Clicquot and rockin’ yellow diamonds/So many rocks up in the watch I can’t tell what the time is,” in “Black and Yellow” being a good example—but for the most part Rolling Papers unfortunately falls below his perceived lyrical capabilities. Humorously dropping a Wayne Gretzky reference in “The Race” gives it a free pass (any MC dropping hockey references is fine by me), but there are a number of tracks like “No Sleep” which rely on about as much lyrical substance as Rebecca Black’s god-awful viral hit “Friday,” “Party all day, party all night, say you wanna party let’s party alright.” That’s where it’s important to remember the distinction between MC and star.

If it weren’t for such a starting point, Khalifa’s Rolling Papers wouldn’t hold up as well as it’s likely to. It’s a bit of a cop-out to say that Wiz gets a critical pass simply because he’s not a lyricist first, but another reason that the album is different than, say, Lasers, is that with the exception of “On My Level,” the entire thing actually sounds good. Here you’re getting an album from a young dude who’s co-signed by the likes of Snoop, that stands clear of controversy by steadily branding itself as a party record. Rolling Papers is about getting drunk and having fun while exercising more than enough weed references so as to qualify as a stoner album without becoming overwhelming for non-smokers. Again: all that, AND it sounds good. Is it an artistic achievement? Hell no. But the same can be said for most everything put out by the likes of Cypress Hill and they’ll be dropping another album this year (tentatively titled Cannabis Dream), releasing it some 20 years after their debut! Perhaps that’s not a perfect comparison to make in order to reinforce the possibility of a strong future for the MC, but it certainly leaves Rolling Papers appearing as one hell of marker with which Wiz Khalifa can continue to build from.


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