Before I jump into this review, I figure I should let you guys know something from the jump. I hate this album. I listened to it exactly one time in full before I tossed 80% of the tracklist in the recycle bin, pissed. Admittedly, I wasn’t as pissed as I would have been had I spent actual money purchasing the album, but still, I was pissed. I felt like Wiz pulled the okey doke on his fans after releasing a couple of great mixtapes (like How Fly, his collabo mixtape with fellow stoner, Curren$y, as well as his own breakthrough tape, the smoked out. Kush & Orange Juice) and blowing up from the internets to a certified mainstream star with his ubiquitous hit single “Black & Yellow” to follow it all up with a debut album that (weed references notwithstanding) sounds like it’s more likely to get spin on Radio Disney then Hot97? WTF? I was all ready to tear into this review & offer my reasoning on why Rolling Papers is the perfect apparatus for breaking up weed but in the interest of fairness, I figured I’d give it one more spin before I went all Big Ghostface on the kid and whaddayaknow? Upon further listening, the album wasn’t nearly as shitty as I initially though. In a weird way, it’s actually kinda good.
Now in order to appreciate this album, you first have to put thing in their proper perspective. Wiz Khalifa is not a great rapper. He’s slightly above average at best. But Wiz does have a skill most rappers would gladly sacrifice a weedcarrier for. He knows how to write songs & his mastery of melodic hooks is a big reason behind his success. Lyrically, Wiz rarely leaves his wheelhouse of weed, women and #WINNING and I say if it ain’t broken, why tamper with it? If you’re coming into this project expecting Jay Electronica level lyricism, you’re in the wrong place.
The album opener, the piano driven “When I’m Gone” takes the “You can’t take it with you when you die” cliche & expands it into a full 4 minute song and almost acts as a mission statement for the rest of the album. Songs like “The Race” & “Star Of The Show” might be soft as the Nah Right admins but there’s no denying their catchy as shit. But even if it’s not aesthetically bad, sometimes the lack of anything meaningful being said makes the music comes across as bland and soulless. “Roll Up”, “No Sleep” & “Top Floor” all fall into this category.
It’s when Wiz forgets about getting mainstream love & just makes good music that he comes up with the best results. “On My Level” finds Wiz and Bay Area legend, Too Short chopping up game over a dark track that stands in stark contrast to everything else on the album & adds some much needed variety. The bulk of the production on Rolling Papers is split between Wiz’s long time collaborators, E. Dan & Big Jerm and Swedish Pop mavens, Stargate, and while both bring their best Hip-Pop beats to the table and give the album a strong sense of cohesiveness, Rolling Papers could have really benefited from a few more moments like “Black & Yellow” to bring the energy level up. My favorite moment on the album is “Rooftops” where Wiz and Curren$y talk about coming from the ground all the way up to the top. The hook says it all…”“A lot of s**t done changed/ New clothes new car new things/ Same’ boys that used to be at the bottom/ Came up that’s what they say/ Used to not be allowed in the building/ But now we on the roof top“. I wouldn’t quite call Wiz Khalifa inspirational, but there’s a care free optimism here that’s almost as infectious as his choruses. I can see college aged kids eating songs like “Fly Solo” and “Cameras” up. I actually think “Fly Solo” would’ve been a better single choice then “Roll Up” for the simple fact that Wiz is actually talking about something.
Yeah, Rolling Papers is more Synthpop then Hip-Hop and there are gonna be plenty of people who jump off the bandwagon because of it, but if you look at Wiz’s career, from his Warner Bros. days up until now, he’s always had Pop aspirations and Rolling Papers doesn’t stray too far from the sound of songs like “Say Yeah” and “This Plane”. What Wiz is doing here shouldn’t come as much of a shock. This is who he’s always been. So for those who like me, wrote Rolling Papers off after one half listen, I encourage you to give it one more shot. It’s an album that’s not gonna be for everyone but light one up and vibe out to it long enough and you might find yourself enjoying it more then you’d expect.