[6 April 2011]
I’ve gotten the impression a few people are waiting with great anticipation for a scathing review of Rolling Papers, but I’ve got to admit it’s just not going to happen. Kush & Orange Juice was a stroke of creative genius, of front to back great production married to wholly appropriate raps from Wiz Khalifa. But it was also something Wiz had never pulled off before, and something one could have reasonably expected him not to achieve again. After all, all his other mixtapes are essentially garbage and Deal or No Deal, while about half really good, was also half pretty awful.
So, while I did have some hopes that Wiz had finally found himself on Kush & OJ and his major label debut would be more of the same, I’m not necessarily surprised that Rolling Papers ended up being what it is. And because of that, I’m not really mad at it. I feel more like a laid back dad who spent his whole life being cool with his son only to discover him smoking pot in his room after coming home from work early. I’m disappointed, but I’m not surprised. All I can do is describe the bad music, I can’t muster any vitriol towards it.
The crux of the problem with Rolling Papers is just how much of it is whack after “Black & Yellow”. The beat for “Hopes & Dreams” is remarkably lame, and songs like “Get Your Shit” and “No Sleep” just feel pointless. The latter is especially nerve-wracking thanks to its heavy radio aspirations. The career of Benny Blanco, who produced the track and studied under Disco D, also continues to confuse me. How he went from Disco D and a Spank Rock collaboration to the number one torchbearer for pop maestro Dr. Luke continues to baffle. Less surprising is the quality of Blanco’s work in the pop realm, which is mostly awful.
But “Wake Up” is just about as bad as “No Sleep”—the scratches feel as gratuitously hip-hop as any given McDonald’s commercial, and its sentiment seems to stand in opposition to “No Sleep” as well. The chorus is annoying similar to the Roots’ “How I Got Over” for its resistance to finishing its sentence and leaving us in perpetual confusion about what exactly he’s afraid to wake up from. He tells us it’s “like a dream”, but never figures out what it actually is. As for “Get Your Shit”, well, why did Wiz suddenly find it necessary to act like he gets into relationships, and why is he so surprised about a break-up if all his other songs make it clear women are only hanging out with him for his weed and money? The song totally feels like a lame rich kid in the Hampton’s just bought his first digital mixer and made a song to showoff to all his friends.
This sort of lyrical laziness pervades the album heavily, and Wiz’s flow even sounds less tight than it has in the past. I recently caught a performance of “Roll Up” on BET, which I haven’t had the pleasure of hearing on the radio, but it left a mostly positive impression on me for the feel good vibe and Wiz’s cool delivery of it. But on record the song is anything but satisfying, feeling more like a PG-13 version of a Disney rap single. Truly, outside of “Black & Yellow” (Wiz’s entry into America’s pantheon of car-boasting #1 jams) and the 60 seconds of Curren$y Wiz blesses us with near the very end of the album, there’s just not much here to enjoy.
Nothing is overwhelmingly awful though, and compared to recent Atlantic trainwrecks like B.o.B. and Lupe Fiasco, there’s at least that to be thankful for. But between the extremely repetitive subject matter, snooze-worthy production and hour-long runtime it’s hard to think of anyone worth recommending this to other than pre-teens and blind Taylor Gangers. I think for most listeners, if Khalifa can’t find a way to reconnect to his Kush & OJ and, to a lesser extent, his How Fly magic there wouldn’t be any tears shed if he slinked back to the internet underground by this time next year and stopped bombarding the market with such limp tunes.