The Secret To Wiz Khalifa’s Success In Rolling Papers 2 Is Bay Area Charm, But Not Much Else

camjameson
Written by camjameson
/ 11 mins read

Lemme level with you – Though he’d been making waves in the mainstream Hip Hop industry for years beforehand, I didn’t actually know who the hell Wiz Khalifa was until he teamed up with Charlie Puth for the Grammy Award-winning Pop tune “ See You Again” from 2015 made specifically as a tribute to actor Paul Walker in the film Furious 7 & even then he wasn’t necessarily unique enough to really grab my attention that much; I mean, shit, I didn’t even know he was popular until my mom spent the majority of the awards show gabbing about how endearing Khalifa was, continuously telling me she thought he was a charming man who showed promise for the future of Hip Hop music, even saying he reminded her of my brothers & I ‘cause he was a quaint light-skinned brother who just wanted to have a good time with respect to those around him. I’d spent years having absolutely no clue just how prolific he’d become, repeatedly believing such hits as “Black and Yellow,” “We Dem Boyz” & the incredibly relaxing “Young, Wild & Free” were one-hit wonders from Gym Class Heroes front-man Travie McCoy, even confusing his incredibly straightforward vocalism with the lazy Rap techniques of white-buffalo lyricist Macklemore – As time passed by, I recognized that he was a major player in the new wave of Mainstream Rap idols, responsible for some of the biggest hits the industry has scene in the last decade alone, but he still existed somewhat in the periphery of my interests, a rather simplistic voice in a crowd of style-biters who were churning out the same exact SoundCloud-based Trap styles everyone else was doing, never quite giving me the old-school charisma or revolutionary genre evolution I needed for him to be a regular player in my weekly rotations; That is, until he released Rolling Papers 2, upon which a singular song with a decidedly old-school West Coast vibe was lighting up my pleasure-centers, reminding me of my days as a Punk-ish hooligan ghost-ridin’ the whip with my friends in Oakland at the height of the Hyphy movement back when I was just a teenager, piquing my attention & encouraging me to check out the rest of the album in hopes of finding similar material – Well, I finally took the plunge into Rolling Papers 2 in earnest recently, head held high & expectations turned up to the max, but almost all of my excitement was quickly met with disappointment as I discovered yet another middling-quality modern Rap album with nothing to say other than repetitive lyrics & unenthusiastic hype techniques that had already turned me off of today’s hottest trends.

Exactly What You’d Expect Of A Modern Day Rapper

For anyone trying to make it in today’s social-media defined, totally-interconnected internet generation, success in Hip Hop is almost entirely defined by how well you adapt to current trends in a timely fashion, keeping a firm grip on Vine & Snapchat trends making the rounds on WorldStar Rap so you’re always in-step with whatever the ‘cool kids’ are doing in their middle- & high-school classrooms; Youthfulness is more desirable than ever & modern audiences are wholly uninterested with continuing the legacy of classic Hip Hop techniques, finding popularity in challenges, simplistic trends & – sadly – illiteracy rather than compelling flows about social inequality that show the true breadth of a lyricist’s vocabulary, as was the pinnacle of artistry only a short decade or so. I know that makes me sound like an elitist old-head who makes petty claims about rap being ‘better in the old days,’ but there’s a tangible disconnect between the skill levels of the Rappers who defined Hip Hop as we know it & the quality of today’s music, as listeners these days just want to consume as much music as fast as possible so they can bite off the styles & become famous instead of producing captivating arguments about why they deserve our attention – After coming into Rolling Papers 2 with such high expectations of Wiz Khalifa, I unfortunately found that he’d been dragged down into this system of monotony himself, even with all the accolades he’d earned in years prior, engaging in trendiness-over-substance like it was nobody’s business with a number of tracks that were just as forgettable as anything that broke the Hip Hop Top 100’s since 2015. For example, songs like “Hot Now” & “Very Special” are slow as fuck & unbearably basic, producing fairly generic beats with little energy & narratives that don’t tell you anything other than the fact that Khalifa is in-fact ‘hot now,’ his flow characterized by overenunciated words & rudimentary rhymes that just don’t hit with the amount of streetwise appeal & aggressive attitude he needs to make his words stick. That’s not to say these songs would be any better if he merely mumbled the words in an idiotic tone with a marble-mouthed drawl as his younger contemporaries have made popular in recent years, but the insane amount of vocal clarity & straightforwardness of his timbre is so incredibly dorky that it’s unbearable to listen to, a cringeworthy gathering of lyric & flow that would’ve been ripped apart by buzzards if he tried to step to such iconic acts as 2Pac or Snoop Dogg back in the day; Hell, even Ja Rule & Nelly managed to command the stage with more style & pomp in their days & they were the lowest bar of talent when they were around! – On the bright side, Khalifa does turn up the heat a little bit on “Goin Hard,” adopting the absolutely-intoxicating hype appeal of Crime Mob’s terrific 2004 banger “Knuck If You Buck” as the beat bounces back & forth in rapid fashion while he raps in a more rigid & abrasive flow that shows far more variety in his wordplay than the other Trap-based tunes on the album, though he immediately turns around & overcorrects on songs like “Real Rich,” going full-on early-teens Kanye West with a monotonal vocoder effect, painfully adolescent rhymes any newcomer to the game would think sounded dope & a beat so underwhelming it doesn’t even register on the Richter scale – Quite simply, why the fuck did this record sell so well? Are today’s Hip Hop connoisseurs braindead, or are they just trying to push the bar lower & lower so it’s easier to get into the game? Whatever it is, I can’t stand it, ‘cause this noise is as unappealing as an un-chilled beer in the middle of a New York heatwave.

If It Ain’t The Bay, It Ain’t The Way

Now, I don’t wanna come off as one of those regionalists who only supports the styles of their hometown, as there’re plenty of phenomenal rappers from the East Coast, the UK, Canada, ATL & even – gasp! – Florida who make my heart go aflutter, but Rolling Papers 2 is only made palatable by the handful of Bay Area & SoCal-inspired tracks within its walls, switching up the mix ever-so-slightly to give today’s audiences something with a little more flavour to chew on in a market plagued by genre clones – Let’s elaborate a little, shall we? The titular track “Rolling Papers 2” is a Progressive Rap jam if I’ve ever heard one, utilizing a delightful chord progression chock-full of smooth basslines, solid percussion sequences & tender vocal samples that verge on inner-city East Coast-esque Conscious Rap sensibilities, though they’re performed with a distinctly West Coast sensitivity typically attributed to the newest generation of Bay Area rappers, particularly as it pertains to the mellow ride-or-die aesthetic of the track’s free-flowing melodies & slightly singsong-y vocals during the choruses. Though not nearly as prominent, Wiz Khalifa manages to squeeze much of this sonic profile into “Hot Now” as well, an undeniably lame track that still provides a lot of the undercurrents of classic Los Angeles-style regional G-Flow, making you feel like he’s a protégé practicing under the wing of Cali’s greatest performers – Obviously, the most glaring example of West Coast appeal is readily apparent in the album’s one & only true slap, the joint that made me want to explore Khalifa’s music in the first place, “Gin and Drugs,” a song based entirely around classic LA county & Bay Area flows that knows just how to respect the past whilst pulling it into the light of modernity. From the absolutely fantastic melody throughout that utilizes a phat, bouncing bassline bold enough to put some stank on your face to the heady, somewhat-nasally vocal lines during the choruses that capture the underpowered talent of gangsters trying to sing back in the day in-between seriously aggressive as fuck lyrics that brag about his weed game, you’re given nothing but pure Rap excellence from tip to toe, making it clear to anyone with at least half a brain that today’s trends just don’t cut it against the stellar vibes of yesteryear; Hell, even “Something New” sneaks in some melodic delight, illustrating the spectacular sexual undertones that made West Coast Rap so special back in the nineties, personified by the distinctly New Wave-ish synth instrumentation artists adopted back in the day akin to something Zapp & Roger would’ve produced, an aesthetic that’s only just started finding its way back to mainstream audiences in the last 3 or so years as the Alternative R&B scene has become evermore Wavy – I’m clearly showing my age here, but damn if this stuff doesn’t bring me back to the days of hitting sideshows & sketchy afterparties where my dumb ass would be trying to hit on a chick way out of my league whilst drinkin’ a Brass Monkey as if I was the hottest shit around.

A Product Of The Times, Through & Through

It doesn’t take a rocket-scientist – or, I guess market analyst is more appropriate? – to realize that Wiz Khalifa is more than happy with just riding the mainstream trend train until it derails itself somewhere down the line, sliding under the radar in terms of true artistic creativity with no remorse since modern audiences really don’t seem to give a damn either way; Sure, he’s still technically a kid in the eyes of mainstream media at only 31 years old & as such can’t really be blamed for wanting to follow the crowd, but when your contemporaries are making such incredible strides in their efforts to drive the Hip Hop industry forward, it’s kinda hard to really give this dude a pass for perpetuating such mediocrity – F’real, look at some of his contemporaries like Chance The Rapper & Kendrick Lamar for example, who’ve found ways of coopting popular trends to work in their favour by injecting them with soooooo much more personality & lyrical talent than anyone else in the scene is even trying to do, constantly pushing the boundaries of their respective genre-interests to their limits by applying whole new sonic profiles to well-established formulas; One of them tries his damnedest to bring back much of the vocal splendor of classic R&B music by injecting Gospel vocals, church-like rhythm sections & endearing personality into his every mix, whilst the other’s off scoring movie soundtracks, experimenting with traditional African instrumentation to promote self-worth in African American youths & tackling the most pressing issues of unfair police brutality & economic disparity within his communities, both embodying what it means to be a responsible performer & artist when you have a platform as influential as they have in their immense fame. Sadly, Wiz Khalifa just can’t keep up with this level of expertise on Rolling Papers 2, missing the opportunity to evolve in the way I know he could id he’d only apply himself, resulting in me finding more joy out of the fact he shares a name with Mia Khalifa rather than the content of his Raps – If nothing else, at least I’m able to say I lived to hear Bone Thugs-N-Harmony drop another majestic bop in the modern day with their collaboration “Reach For The Stars (feat. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony),” a tune that’s just so incredibly pleasant it brings a smile to my face no matter what my mood is, proving that it doesn’t matter how many years pass by in the Hip Hop scene, true talent is true talent forever, able to persist years after styles have come & gone, something many of today’s most prolific Trap artists likely won’t be able to say when the scene has died just a couple years down the road. Better start settnnig up those Uber Driver accounts quick!

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  • Wiz Khalifa