REVIEW BY: Melanie Love
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/02/2011
If you’ve been at all conscious during the past Superbowl season, you’ll know Wiz Khalifa. His Steelers anthem, “Black And Yellow,” was blasted ad nauseum and topped the singles charts, and for good reason – it’s inescapably catchy, full of the swagger and boasting that makes any great hip-hop hit. Coming on the heels of that success is his major label debut, Rolling Papers. It took a failed deal with Warner Brothers, nine mixtapes, and two independent albums for this disc to finally hit the shelves, and in many ways, it was worth the wait.
Wiz Khalifa is a big hitter in the emerging “stoner rap” genre, joining the likes of Kid Cudi, Snoop Dogg, and Lil Wayne. But while Kid Cudi leans toward the introspective (and often mopey) and Lil Wayne is high octane, Wiz represents a different sort of personality. He’s just a personable sort of guy, down-to-earth and relatable. Even when he’s talking about his newfound fame, like on opener “When I’m Gone,” it’s in a strangely mature way: “I’m gonna take all this money I owe and blow it all away / Cuz I can’t take it when I’m gone.” This isn’t just a young rapper boasting about his cash and his jetplanes or elusive supermodels; this is a track about loyalty to the guys that were with Wiz from the start, and about mortality. And it’s a pretty lowbeat opener, easing the listener into the tone of the album.
For all the explosive energy of “Black And Yellow,” most of the cuts here stay in a more subdued vein, such as standout “On My Level,” produced by Stargate. Wiz makes something potent out of minimal, muted beats, and his rhymes are simple but enigmatic. This isn’t the egotism of Kanye or the intricate lyrics of Eminem. You can sing to this stuff and chill to it.
Mostly, what I love about Rolling Papers is how Wiz emerges as such an endearing guy. On current single “Roll Up,” he makes stealing another guy’s girl sound wholly adorable (“Whenever you call me, baby, I’ll roll up”), and penultimate cut “Rooftops” (featuring Curren$y) is aloft with sheer joy at finally making it in a business that’s given Wiz his fair share of disappointments. When he sings “Used to not be allowed in the building, but now we on the rooftop,” it’s a small but triumphant moment. Plus, on nearly every track, Wiz dissolves into giggles at one point or another, and his distinctive laugh is a great counterpoint to even the most swaggering of lyrics.
For all his playing the ladies man, there are still some great party cuts here, like “No Sleep” with its shimmering, energetic beats that mimic the feeling of watching the sunrise after an exhausting, exhilarating night. His version of hip-hop is heavily melodic, trading more on rhythms and ambience than the force of his lyrics. Rolling Papers is tremendously accessible and undeniably listenable, deftly combining explorations of his newfound fame with a down-to-earth quality that makes him a cool, relatable guy you’d love to hang out and party with. Though it doesn’t have the heft and virtuosity of say, Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy or the maturity of Eminem’s Recovery, this is nevertheless a solid major debut for Wiz, and he’s poised to take his spot among the hip-hop elite.