Wiz Khalifa is the Jennifer Aniston of hip-hop. Women love Jennifer Aniston because she’s the embodiment of everything they want to be; famous, independent, hot, but not so hot she seems unreachable. At her most optimistic, the average American woman sees herself as Aniston, or at the very least could imagine Aniston as her best friend. What’s more, Aniston knows full well why her fans love her, so she consciously bypasses the summer blockbuster flicks in favor of working-class-girl roles (Office Space, The Break-Up, etc.). For those checking to make sure this is still the …
DJBooth Album Review
For those checking to make sure this is still the album review for Wiz Khalifa’s major label debut album, Rolling Papers, allow me to connect the dots. Wiz Khalifa has money, but he doesn’t rhyme about G6 jets and Louis Vuitton bags full of diamonds. Wiz Khalifa gets girls, but in his music they aren’t Brazilian super models, they’re chicks he picked up at the club with a nice car. Wiz Khalifa can rap, but not so well everyone with a radio can’t rhyme along to every word, even if they’re higher than Kilimanjaro. There are a lot of rich and famous rappers out there, but Wiz is the only one you can picture eating at a 24-hour IHOP with you.
In other words, Wiz Khalifa feels reachable, and Rolling Papers walks that fine line between projecting our fantasies while maintaining an everyman appeal expertly. If Wiz learned anything from his first failed major label signing, with Warner Brothers, it’s how to balance his well deserved reputation as a “weed rapper” with mainstream appeal. So on his second time around with Atlantic he’s essentially made Rolling Papers a pop album, in the sense that heavily melodic hip-hop is the new pop (see also, Nicki Minaj’s Pink Friday). Musically it makes for a pretty unexciting album, but having already earned a massive and chronically loyal fan base (get it?), it’s his best chance at shifting from cultural phenomenon to established icon.
That doesn’t mean Rolling Papers is all sugary sweet pop anthems – it contains a fair share of more straight up rap records. While the instantly addictive beat for his breakthrough smash Black and Yellow was notably crafted by pop/r&b super-producers Stargate, Wiz’ simple but strong rhymes, anthemic hook and rep your city swagger has its roots in hip-hop. While it’s hard to deny Black and Yellow’s appeal, it’s On My Level, not so coincidentally the most purely rap song on Rolling Papers, that’s my personal favorite on the album. Khalifa’s constantly relaxed delivery and basic verses echo Jim Jonsin’s minimalistically banging beat perfectly. Tellingly, On My Level also includes one of only three guest verses on the album in Too Short, along with Curren$y on the more rap-esque Rooftops. For better or worse, Rolling Papers is clearly Wiz’ show.
From there the album fluctuates between straight pop and hip-pop, relying more on sung choruses and melodic riffs than beats and rhymes to carry the day. Rolling Papers’ current single, Roll Up, takes the “if your man ain’t treating you right, girl I will” formula that’s hit since the days of doo-wop, brings in some synths and a full-on sung chorus and. It’s not groundbreaking, but if ladies hear it and imagine Wiz rolling to pick them up, it’s a win for Khalifa. Roll Up is actually far from the album’s lightest track, that honor would belong to Fly Solo, an acoustically driven track that doesn’t technically credit Bruno Mars and Travie McCoy’s Billionaire as a source, but should. From there the bulk of the album is simply mid-tempo records that deal with girls, partying, partying with girls, breaking up with your girlfriend so you can party with girls, and any other variation on that theme you can think of. MBDTF this isn’t.
After Rolling Papers Wiz’ fan base should expand significantly, as should the number of rap purists angry about his lack of rhyme skills, but complaining about his “rap” skills completely misses the point. Jennifer Aniston’s never going to win an Oscar for her brave portrayal of a Holocaust survivor, and Wiz is never going to pick up a Grammy for a deeply conceptual album. Wiz Khalifa has emerged from the ranks of replaceable rappers (seriously, anyone could have done Say Yeah) precisely because he’s used his music as a vehicle to project a lifestyle full of relaxation, women and quasi-illegal narcotics, and in that sense Rolling Papers is simply the biggest projector he’s has yet. He just has to be careful not to get so big he becomes unreachable - call it the Jennifer Aniston principle.
DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 03/29/11
First DJ Booth Appearance:
"Say Yeah" (2008)
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