WIZ KHALIFA – Rolling Papers
Ever since Lil’ Wayne released Tha Carter III in 2008, virtually every rapper to see the light of day has struggled to copy his sped-up, southern-drawl-flow and Purple Drank lifestyle. They pay thousands for designer beats and hot-guest verses, and basically beg to get brought up on drug and gun charges to sell ringtones. The thing they all seem to miss is that Wayne is an exception, not a genre. He’s an eccentric genius who can’t help but make you squirm, and when you try to turn his innovations into industry trends, you just water them down.
It’s been a while since a rapper came out with a solid, not-even-just-hip-hop-but-all-around record like Carter III, and that’s what Wiz Khalifa seems to be doing with Rolling Papers. This is his first album on a major label – after having released a couple mixtapes and records independently out of his hometown of Pittsburg. His mixtapes stirred up a heated bidding war last year – he turned down offers from Rick Ross and a co-headlining tour opportunity with Drake to ensure that he wouldn’t get roped into a moribund sub-genre or trend.
Rolling Papers is an All-Around record; Khalifa tapped an extensive rolodex of producers and guests to keep it interesting. You got that southern crunk sound on tracks like “Black and Yellow” (which I know you’re sick of by now, but blame the Steelers and move on, man). There’s inspirational, feel good, pre-crazy-Kanye beat&flows like “Roll Up” and “No Sleep.” There’s even some actual instrumentation on “Fly Solo,” provided by Tim Armstrong of Rancid and Travis Barker of Expensive Taste (and, uh, maybe another band).
A lot of the lyrics have references to blowing his money. But not, like, in a “I’m’a live forever,” boastfully shortsighted way – it seems more like he’s trying to brace for longevity, motivated more by the music than the money. Take note, Every Other Rapper Ever.
Now, I know you think I’m all hood and shit, but I’m gonna level with you. I’m mostly white: I suck at basketball, and I don’t know exactly which model Blackberry I have. So some of Khalifa’s lyrics go over my head. Sure, I “appreciate his use of alliteration and cadence, and I like that he draws from a highly variegated body of lyrical influences,” but there’s a couple phrases I’m not going to understand until they get co-opted. And until then I’m going to continue to squirm a little, whitely.
ie. On “Wake Up,” he says, “Got money/ minor league turned major/ Got money/ white people turn neighbors,” and I suddenly feel like I should feel guilty for helping to gentrify Bushwick.
It’s good though. It starts strong and ends strong too, so it’s worth putting up with the few low points on a full run through. And even if Wiz Khalifa starts to go downhill, you know, like every other artist in the history of art, I’ll probably still bring this record up and weep a little like I do whenever College Dropout comes on the random play.