[1 July 2014]
“I can’t stand fake n****s,” proclaims Wiz Khalifa on “The Rain”, the penultimate track on his long, long new mixtape. It’s a sentiment he surely takes to heart, as all 28 tracks on 28 Grams feature the rapper describing what his life must really be like, in droning, boring detail. He smokes a lot of weed, spends a lot of money, smokes even more weed, and feels love for his friends and the artists on his record label. Then he puts a bandana on his head and pretends he’s Jimi Hendrix. Wiz really needs to rethink his stance on fakeness, because a little fiction might make his act a bit less tiresome.
And that’s just one way in which “The Rain” illustrates what’s wrong with Wiz these days. It lifts its beat from the Missy Elliott/Timbaland classic “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)”, implying that the artist either feels he can do justice to one of the most creative hip-hop tracks of the last 20 years, or just kind of felt like rapping over it that day. Either way, the results are underwhelming. 28 Grams is full of interesting, moody, personality-drenched beats, many of which go to waste because they’re not suited to the artist. Wiz wants to be mid-‘00s Lil Wayne, to be playful and hysterical and at his best when he’s spewing words off the cuff. But he’s more like Pitbull or Flo Rida—a guy who can be the X factor that makes a vanilla dance beat into a hit. “Black and Yellow” is a timeless banger because Wiz lets the devilishly catchy hook lead him, letting it unfurl with almost lackadaisical confidence. Here, he’s constantly getting in the way, making claims so rote and unnecessary that it sounds like he’s reading his datebook. Toward the end of “Get That Zip Off”, the rapper positively smothers the track’s synth-horn-driven street king vibe with ramblings like, “I’m gonna be in motherfuckin’ Denver on 4/20 n**a/Weed is legal there / So that’s sweet.” That is keeping it painstakingly real.
While 28 Grams makes it clear that Wiz isn’t the kind of rapper that should be winging it for 90 minutes, it does work as an epic showcase for some talented producers. Ricky P especially shines, lending dark, floating harp trills to “Samo” and turning a pitched-down snippet of Brotherly Love’s “I Don’t See Me In Your Eyes Anymore” into the kind of haunting retro R&B groove that would’ve piqued the interest of College Dropout-era Kanye. ID Labs provides such a monstrously triumphant gangsta groove on “James Bong”—all funeral bell clangs and speaker rattling kick drum—that you almost forget that the song is called “James Bong”. Cozmo samples New Edition’s “Can You Stand the Rain” to lend a refreshingly emotional twinge to “On a Plane”, tinny 1980s electric piano and all.
Given its size, you’d think more space would be devoted to the stable of artists on Wiz’s Taylor Gang label. But the Future-meets-R. Kelly crooner Ty$—Taylor Gang’s most overtly stardom-bound act—only gets the paltry chorus of “Banger” to do his thing. He makes “All I smoke is papers” sound better that it has any right to, but still. Taylor emcees Chevy Woods, Juicy J and JR Donato also appear only once, and Wiz takes on 18 of the tracks all by his lonesome.
That’s not always a bad thing. When he gets out of his own way, Wiz is more than capable of being the focal point, even a viable pop artist. “Something Special” is the record’s best track, pairing the hazy vocal curlicues of guest Thundercat with Wiz’s simple plea “Come back to me/I wanna roll one up with you.” Throw in a cute “It Was A Good Day” callback in the first verse, and you’ve got yourself a quality summer jam. The rapper breaks into his Flava Flav-esque giggle toward the end, and for once, it feels earned.