Astronomy teaches us that the bigger the star, the greater the chances burnout can occur. The entertainment world aligns its stars very much the same, seeing that the more attention one of its premier members receives, the more likely the career can be banished into the black hole of yesteryear. Call it convenient amnesia, if you will. In a spiraling twist of good fortune and hard-nosed grind, Wiz Khalifa built his empire similar to which the proud citizens of his hometown Pittsburgh constructed their city: brick by brick, one fan at a time.
Then naturally, as if there was some misplaced Horatio Alger, Jr. novel pre-written to mirror his life, the proverbial—and real—red carpet began to roll out for him as he marched to the top of rap’s food chain, as a seminal rookie. From gracing nearly every conceivable magazine’s cover to one high profile relationship after another, to giving proper instructions to his “Taylor Gang” fanbase on their joint rolling techniques, Wiz Khalifa had arrived, in the traditional sense. Rare is it nowadays for an artist to dominate the streets, elevating himself and his brand to international territory. Not to mention moving directly onward to the executive offices of big label meetings and marketing planning in one seamless passage. Which brings us in the next chapter of the Book of Khalifa: the debut album that attempts to convert oblivious consumers at an even faster rate. Doing his best to stay loyal to his Zig-Zaggin’ ways, the studio debut for the young spitter, Rolling Papers, is best described as a bag of marijuana, without the strongest batch of THC attached to it.
Wiz Khalifa dangerously fills the role of the proven hitmaker. It’s all fine and dandy when you’re in the zone, cranking on all cylinders, but even the slightest half-hearted attempt can cast a shadow on your grand achievements. Plain and simple, a bulk of Rolling Papers’ contents only amount to album filler, with no overall scheme or purpose. Starting things off by moaning “And they say all I rap about is bitches and champagne/you would too if every night you see the same thing…” for album opener, “When I’m Gone,” the domino effect ensues, as he pretty much lives up to the accusations, keeping it straightforward with nothing but the party life. When he’s not breezing through songs with a lethargic delivery as heard on “Hopes & Dreams,” his producers are failing him on the back end. The annoying “Top Floor” employs a synthesized baby gushing over a crusty drum sample while “Get Your Shit,” a trite break-up anthem, sounds like longtime producer E. Dan was trolling old episodes of Felicity for sample ideas.
The smokey soiree isn’t a total wash, though, seeing that Wiz didn’t get to the title fight without being a worthy contender. The other half of Rolling Papers is a better burn for your buck, with a handful of choice cuts that reveal a chef-d’oeuvre in the art of hit material. Smooth and intoxicating like the weed he consumes on the hourly, “The Race” is a fermented jewel, perfect flair for parties or downright laziness in sunny conditions. Kissing cousins “Roll Up” and “Wake Up” are catchy enough to get a pass as instant single fodder but day one followers will probably opt to side with “Rooftops,” the dark and melodic duet with Mary Jane cohort Curren$y.
And then there’s the unsuspecting yet potent radio magnet in “Black & Yellow.” In his efforts to please everybody at the same time, he may have nailed simply by playing to the primary power source of his roots, which just so happens to expand across the nation through an allegiance parallel to none in a football team. Perhaps with a few more options found in the playbook, Wiz’s debut wouldn’t feel like such a bloated affair—even with only fourteen songs present on the tracklist.
Those seeking out the full spectrum of Khalifa’s personality will have to settle for his more complimentary releases, à la Cabin Fever, as he and employer Atlantic Records have come to some sort of consensus to the boundaries on the rules of engagement here. While not quite the career benchmark, Rolling Papers is still a viable source for fans and peers alike to catch a contact from Wiz’s commercial deftness and star power. Hopefully next time, there isn’t any stinginess on the Kush intake.