The Wondeful Wiz Khalifa

Courtesy of Atlantic Records

While many rap fans have been listening to Wiz Khalifa’s music for some time now, the artist has lacked an official album release to call his own. His smash hit “Black and Yellow” has skyrocketed this up-and-coming Pittsburgh rapper to the top of the charts, and his popularity is spreading. Wiz Khalifa’s first studio album release, “Rolling Papers,” is a good showing for this new artist, but not perfect by a long shot, which is understandable for a rapper making his first real foray into official album releases.

While Wiz Khalifa may have just recently received popular attention and radio play, he has been an underground phenomenon in the making. His numerous mixtapes have gained him a cult following, and his hit mixtape “Kush and OJ” was named Datpiff.com’s top mixtape of 2010. He has toured all over the country with a variety of other artists and is signed to the same record label as Mac Miller, another upcoming artist from Pittsburgh. He was largely unknown in the mainstream music scene before this year, but his Pittsburgh Steelers-inspired anthem “Black and Yellow” rose to prominence due in part to the team’s Super Bowl run.

When you listen to this particular album, make sure you do so in a relaxed and chill environment — this isn’t an upbeat “get out and go” type of album, but rather has a “sit down and just unwind” vibe.

“Roll Up” is a good place to start on the album, and is definitely one of the better tracks off the album. A single he released before the album dropped, the song is romantic and a bit more upbeat than the other songs in the album. Other than that, the album is pretty much the same laid-back, almost R&B sound track after track; if you like one, then it is more than likely that you will like them all. Save for the aforementioned track, the track really lacks any standout songs.

One of the main problems I have with the album is its content; Khalifa seems to be perpetually stuck in self-praise. Almost every single song is either about how much money he has, how much weed he smokes or how many women he has following him. While these three ingredients may make up most of what Khalifa talks about in most of his other songs, the tone never changes in this album. In his mixtapes, he talks about working to attain fame and the struggle to get to the top. In “Rolling Papers,” it’s as if he has already made it to the top and is just patting himself on the back. While this may be a minor complaint, it notably diminishes my enjoyment of his first outing.

This album is more mainstream than most of Khalifa’s work — there is simply no other way to say it. The work feels more targeted to a broader audience than most of Khalifa’s other mixtapes, and each song just gives off the feeling that it was made for the radio.

Such “selling out” is understandable for an artist in Wiz Khalifa’s position. On the brisk of reaching mainstream popularity, he decided to sacrifice some of his more dedicated fans in order to appease to the masses and hopefully establish himself as a more permanent part of the rap game and not just a “flash in the pan.” Some of the Khalifa faithful decry this move, but I for one think that this move is not egregious. Khalifa has recently released a mixtape called “Cabin Fever” that was done in his more “signature” style, proving that he still knows where he came from and who supported him when he wasn’t famous yet.

This album as a whole is a good listen and a decent outing for Khalifa. Compared to his other mixtapes, “Rolling Papers” would be on par with “Flight School,” but not on the level of his best release to date, “Kush and OJ.” For someone who is new to Wiz Khalifa’s unique style of rap, this album serves as a good starting point and place for people to get acquainted with the “Taylor Gang” mentality before delving into some of his less mainstream mixtapes. For a longtime listener of Khalifa, this album is going to seem like a bit of a cop-out, but in the long term, if Khalifa has to “sell out” to stay in the game longer, it means more concerts and more mixtapes for his dedicated fans.

At the end of the day, Wiz Khalifa does have to sell albums to stay rapping. If this means he has to make changes to fit the demands of the masses, that is an unfortunate consequence of the way the rap game is structured, not a fault of the artist himself.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars