Although this is Wiz Khalifa’s third album, he only really began to make waves last year with his acclaimed ‘Kush and OJ’ mixtape and the smash hit single Black and Yellow, which ended up being the unofficial anthem for the Pittsburgh Steelers on their road to the Superbowl. Unfortunately, I think these outings misrepresented what ended up becoming ‘Rolling Papers’.
The album starts off strong with When I’m Gone, On My Level and Black and Yellow. However, while these songs gave me hope for a great album, they are very misleading and the album starts to fall apart after these first songs. No other song on the album has as dark of a vibe as the Too $hort assisted On My Level and no other song on the album reaches the level of energy that is heard on Black and Yellow (regardless of how played out the song is at this point). Because the energy-level immediately drops after the third song, it feels like the album loses momentum and just coasts for the other eleven songs. Instead of hard hitting hip hop like what you’d expect after On My Level and Black and Yellow, what we get are mostly very radio-friendly songs with plastic, soulless R&B beats with uninteresting choruses and content.
The beats on this album are far from innovative and gravitate towards the melodic but generic production that’s popular nowadays. The standout beat on this album actually comes from the lead single Black and Yellow, which is very disappointing considering we’ve been hearing this song for months now. There aren’t really any interesting beats like what we heard on The Kid Frankie, In The Cut, Still Blazin or Visions from ‘Kush and OJ’ and musically, everything unfortunately feels very safe.
The choruses are all sung by Wiz and likewise are also mostly very generic. Wiz was never the greatest writer but some of these are really terrible. Take for example, the bridge on No Sleep: “Party all day, party all night/ Say you wanna party? Let’s party alright.” If that isn’t absolutely cringe-worthy writing, I have lost all faith in the creativeness of hip hop. Wiz is no stranger to singing as we’ve heard on the ‘Kush and OJ’ mixtape and some of his previous work so I don’t have a problem with the singing per se but I feel he overdoes it on this album, which makes the songs feel very stale and predictable. Plus, while his singing on previous songs was the typical “I can’t sing but I’m going to anyway” type that we hear on many other rappers’ songs, it sounds like they really worked on over-processing Wiz’ vocals and it comes off as unnatural and forced to me.
Although I’m just taking a stab in the dark at the writing process and have nothing to back my statement up, I feel Atlantic Records gave ‘Rolling Papers’ the Lupe Fiasco treatment as I hear a lot of similarities in the way the latest albums from these two artists were put together (both artists are signed to Atlantic by the way). Both albums have a lot of synthy, melodic, radio-friendly production and both have really corny, sing-songy choruses on literally every song, which I believe were either forced or, at the very least, encouraged by Atlantic to be used to make these albums more marketable (Lupe admitted Atlantic did this for ‘Lasers‘).
In addition, despite both albums seemingly strategically put together by a label head, they also both contain a few songs that stand high above the others in terms of quality and are clearly the works of each respective artist. In Wiz’ case, this is the aforementioned first three songs, Star of the Show and Rooftops. The latter song features an excellent verse from frequent collaborator Curren$y.
Again, Wiz was never considered a top-tier lyricist with complex multi-syllable rhyme schemes or socially conscious lyrics and he does his thing for the most part but in terms of content, this album is a snoozefest. The first line of the album, “And they say all I rap about’s bitches and champagne“, pretty much sums up the range of topics covered on this album. On two-thirds of the songs, he raps about smoking weed, drinking, money, having sex with women and partying. On the other third of the songs, he raps about relationships, break-ups and the lovey-dovey stuff that dominates the pop charts. It’s not the most engaging material but if you were familiar with Wiz prior to this, you probably weren’t exactly expecting an album like ‘It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back’ from him anyway.
While even the pop-sounding songs aren’t terrible and are actually pretty catchy for the most part, I feel this album is having an identity crisis and it’s not quite sure who its target audience is. It’s musically radio-friendly enough for the younger listeners and the sing-songy choruses and production seem to cater to them. At the same time, all these lyrics about hoes, weed and getting hammered are a little too mature/ignorant for a younger person to be listening to in my opinion. On the other hand, the uninteresting content, simple writing and predictable cadences don’t provide quite enough substance for a hip hop head to fully appreciate. It neatly falls somewhere in the middle of it all, creating a decent hip-pop album but ultimately a watered down hip hop album.
This may have been a different case if it was marketed as more of a top-40, R&B-ish type of album but ‘Kush and OJ’ and the lead single Black and Yellow go hard so my expectations were much different than what we got. However, if you go into it expecting an album more along the lines of the current single Roll Up rather than his previous work, you might not be as surprised as I was because this single is pretty reflective of the album’s overall sound. For what it’s worth though, a younger crowd will probably dig this but ‘Rolling Papers’ is a pretty underwhelming and boring album to me.
‘Rolling Papers‘ was released on March 29th, 2011