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

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!

Album O.N.I.F.C. Can Be Tied To A ‘I-Made-It’ Mind Set, But Commercialism Has Its’ Creative Costs

Written by taylor
/ 8 mins read

Wiz Khalifa has said of the album title O.N.I.F.C. that it is an abbreviated meaning for ‘Only N-word In First Class’, and this swag infused phrasing is supposed to celebrate Khalifa’s success up to that point in 2012, from a career that began totally differently in around 2005. The abbreviation is made both in jest, but also with pride, because one can imagine that a tatted up young black man who hits the airport most likely smelling like Khalifa Kush (his brand) would sort of make an impression in first class – but he certainly can pay many times over for his first class seat while being himself – which is I feel the point being made. Admittedly, I’ve never been a super duper fan of Khalifa’s music, yet when his songs hit, they really hit for me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve bumped one of his funkiest slappers ever – “The Kid Frankie”, off his best album, 2010’s Kush & Orange Juice. This is the classic era I most enjoy from the MC, but truth be told, I’ve never been so enamored with his style or aura that I really got into all of dudes’ albums, yet this whole time, I did definitely notice how often Khalifa would adapt his flow to whatever was trending at the time. I remember the debates that would be had during occasional smoke-out sessions with friends and associates about how he was ‘selling out’ etc, yet if only these folks knew that the whole industry would more and more begin to sell out in the same manner, and Khalifa was just someone who was committed to switching up in order to maintain success and stack cash. To compare “The Kid Frankie” to Fast And Furious 7’s “See You Again” is a night and day in terms of cool factor, but the later was the type of music that would make him an international star and also plug him for serious financial reward, as the sappy track became, as of July 2017, the most viewed YouTube video in history, and all told, Khalifa would end up with a net worth of 45 million. Such success defines Khalifa for me more than whether or not he is an amazing rapper – because his flow can have its moments, but honestly, can come off annoying to me just as easily depending on the track. I have never liked that inconsistency I feel about him. O.N.I.F.C. has a mix of regional beats and flows, and serves as an album where I definitely can instantly separate the tracks I love to bump from the ones I don’t.

Trap And Pop Rap Vibes Change The Whole Vibe Initially

Only a few songs on the album can compete with the laid back chilled out above track “The Kid Frankie” in my opinion. Rather, the first few songs on O.N.I.F.C. features those monied club Trap beats that were popular during that time, and I suppose the turn off here is Wiz Khalifa’s money-talk is a little trying. Drake, Big Sean, and Wiz all had that aspect of monotone, ultra annunciated, out of the nose delivery during this time period which I guess was popular, but I always felt was boring. It’s a ‘me and my team made it’ cadence – very sports-collegiate-game-time delivery, for lack of another way to describe it, and at the end of the day, it’s just not all that appealing of a flow (when the aforementioned rappers attempt it) and generally doesn’t have much lyrical depth either. Not to mention, sometimes Wiz runs off target with his bars and will close the rhyme somewhere woefully late or anticlimactically. “Paperbond” suffers from a Pop Rap delivery, rather than some really amazing technique that opens the album up. There are moments where he tightens up and impresses, but I get the general vibe that he is committed to not trying too hard, if that makes any sense. But it doesn’t need to be deep either - he probably just wants to rap in a basic way over beats, have fun, have sex with a bunch of women, smoke a bunch of weed, and stack cash – a lot more than trying to be the best rapper in the world. “Bluffin” has a sort of cheap yet sort of dope synth vibe, but again, the rapping is underwhelming, even when he switches cadence tempo. While “Let It Go” has a an overemphasis on bad synth patches and a very Pop epic Akon spin on the track that I simply am unmoved by, do to it’s overall generic sound. Then the album picks up for me, with “The Bluff”, with the woozy smooth beat and more vocal variety from Khalifa’s raps, and the hook is real liquid and seductive, plus its good to hear a little vocal difference from the gruffest Harlem sounds of Cam’ron. Then it’s back to the Pop Rap of synth heavy “Work Hard, Play Hard” which is not only too dated to listen to now, but I didn’t like how self-aggrandized it sounded back then. This is that corporate Fast & Furious style music that I feel contributed to Hip Hop’s creative dark age just as much as the mumble rap movement a couple years later.

Wiz Excels When He Exhibits A More Creative Flow Over Beats That Aren’t So Canned

On some Outkast Love Below type stuff, for the first time Wiz Khalifa hits it out of the park with the love song “Got Everything”, as it sounds sincere, has a killer hook, unbelievable wavy chords, a truly complex beat structure, and Khalifa spitting his hottest bars and flow yet in a staccato style; “won't ever leave you, you're the one I need so that's how I'm gonna treat you / take you places where they using different language to greet you.” Here, with the help of seductive vocals from Courtney Noelle, is a great synergy of club ready Pop and classic hip hop delivery – proving that both styles can co exist if the right decisions are made in the studio. Other great decisions follow, such as on songs like the jazzy and challenging Trip Hop of “Fall Asleep”, where Khalifa lets his delivery go real weird, dragging out the vowels on words like ‘swag’ and ‘bag’ just because it sounds compelling, and mentioned the title of the album and generally how dope it feels to be a cat like Wiz flying in first class. The music here is vivid and seductive and it’s allure is undeniable. The strange vibes continue somewhat with 2 Chainz on the Trap song “It’s Nothin”, which is more memorable for it’s hook for me than the sort of canned rhythm. I gotta give it up to 2 Chainz on his lines here; “I like being high because it's a better view /and, I told your ho my chain so cold it's on Theraflu.” Dayum, that’s pretty cold. From The Weeknd to Pharrell Williams, the collabs on this album are all off the hook. One of my other favorite songs is the Pharrell produced “Rise Above”, where, no cap, I actually dug Pharrell’s rap verse just as much, if not more so, then Wiz’s on the same track. Pharrell never ceases to surprise, especially during those occasional moments where he drops the friendly Pop veneer and gets raw lyrically.

In Making A Playlist From This Album, The Selections Will Be Short And Sweet, Yet Will Include One Long Ass Opus Too

“Time” has the weakest laziest synth beat on the album, and Wiz Khalifa’s intro to the song is laborious, nasally, monotone – yet made much better within the track when it switches up to a sort of triplet flow that salvages at least part of the song. “Initiation” is likewise boring Trap that I suppose was going for a southern vibe but sounds almost unlistenable in today’s climate – and having not grown up on this ‘gem’, I couldn’t tell you when it would ever return to style. A better southern track, where Wiz Khalifa even adds a bit of twang to his delivery, is the wavy, ethereal Trap track “The Plan”, featuring veteran Juicy J and sounding cosmic. “Remember You” shows how unique The Weeknd was when he first started hitting, and he sort of takes over this dope and dusty beat. The inconsistencies continue with “Medicated” thanks to Khalifa’s boring syllable for syllable staccato and alien synth that sounds hardly any different from “Initiation”, and this song really doesn’t hold up 7 years later. Still, I can say that there are enough enjoyable tracks here to make a little choice-cut playlist of my own, and I would definitely add to that one of the most ambitious and longest tracks Khalifa has ever done, “No Limit.” Clocking in at 9:27, this is a song that will take you on one long and valuable journey, with its trippy breakdance drum rhythm (bordering on Drum n Bass), heavenly chords, and totally experimental segues and transitions – underscoring some of Wiz Khalifa’s most competent and melodic rapping.

Ever The Polarizing Rapper, It’s Hard For Me To Determine If ‘Blacc Hollywood’ Is Better Or Worse Than Sophomore Album ‘O.N.I.F.C.’

‘C’mon Wiz. Whatchu doin man?’ At least that is what I would have uttered to the rapper had I shared an elevator with him in 2014. I would have been addressing the fact that the quality of this very famous and successful rapper was on the decline – too mainstream for my tastes, sure, but even in the mainstream ring, how could a heavy weight rap this boringly? Honestly, certain songs herein have maddeningly underwhelming flows – as if Wiz Khalifa is just phoning in his bars. Clearly by now, he has perfected the accent and cadence of the universal stoner, and from a social experiment standpoint, I can say that by sounding like an everyman smoker, his suburban fans must feel a special affinity for these verses, not because they were birthed by ‘a top 5 GOAT of all time’ as some have described Khalifa, but rather because ‘his’ accessible, annunciated sound can be ‘their’ sound as well, give or take a week or two spent in their bedroom with a decent microphone and Logic. Which is why Wiz Khalifa will always be polarizing – not just for me, but for other commenters out there – as his sound more often than not becomes blander and blander with each album, especially as he further cements his place in Hip Hop Pop. But I will go one step further. Has he ever been an amazing rapper, as denizens for devoted fans love to claim. I revisited even the earliest mixtapes, and I have to say, while they show promise, they all show the seeds of laziness as well, which, by the release of Blacc Hollywood some 9 years later, have reached new heights of ‘lazy.’ The first three tracks for instance – intended to be heavy hitters and also indicators of some sense of new direction, are themselves very bland: in terms of either rapping, singing, or wave-riding. “Hope” has a female hating premise which identifies any women in a career-rapper’s space as a gold-digger who isn’t looking for love in the first place, therefore, you better pop bottles and spend lots of cash because that is all she is responding to, i.e., giving her ass up for. Fine, I can get with that level of hedonism and am well aware that a groupie serves a very specific purpose, but my God, Khalifa’s annunciated syllable for syllable delivery is mind-numbing, over the most typical of brooding bell and Trap rhythms. “We Dem Boyz” completely bites off of the soul-killing Chicago Drill sound of Chief Keef’s 2014 output, relegating Khalifa to just another rapper in said scene, albeit one who, again, annunciates when the beat begs for a high school drop out gang land mumble. Not that one should fake something that they aren’t, yet, the miss matched result sounds idiotic and extremely in-authentic. Then, from the misogynistic music of the first track to a tender hearted slow jam with track three’s “Promises”, where the lyrics ask the girl to not get cold feet after an invitation of sex has been brokered, this song is designed with foreplay in mind, though I counter, however over-critically, that if women are typically gold-diggers as explained in the opening track, why on Earth would a girl in Khalifa’s orbit ever play coy, as described in the premis of “Promise.” Thus, already, there is nothing deep at hand going on with the album. We got misogyny, aggression, and a song for the ladies – check, check, and check. What other commercial obligations must be met before Blacc Hollywood can be considered complete?

Written by taylor  / Mar 20, 2019

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    Cameron Jibril Thomaz (born September 8, 1987), known professionally as Wiz Khalifa, is an American rapper, singer-songwriter and actor. He released his debut album, Show and Prove, in 2006, and signed to Warner Bros. Records in 2007. His Eurodance-influenced single, "Say Yeah", received urban radio airplay, charting on the Rhythmic Top 40 and Hot Rap Tracks charts in 2008.
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