Attempting to atone for Rolling Papers, Wiz Khalifa turns in a reasonable if unsurprising facsimile of his high water mark to-date, Kush & OJ.
Taylor Allderdice is so weird to me. It's the sort of mixtape I should totally be predisposed to demanding yet I'm decidedly not. Atmosphere-wise it's a perfect blend of Curren$y's latest endeavors and a more, shall I say, dusty jazz template that speaks to me quite openly. I was (and am) also a huge fan of the most recent Wiz Khalifa project, Mac & Devin Go to High School. Granted that was a collaboration with Snoop Dogg, but even more enthusiastic fans of Snoop's more recent work (such as myself) would have been surprised that project came out as anything other than a slobbered-over mess. Taylor Allderdice was announced as a sort of mea culpa to the more hardcore fans for his major label debut, Rolling Papers, an album which contained enough of Wiz's more popular mixtape traits -- smooth flow, dope beats, annoyingly engaging hooks -- to keep lightweights coming back yet felt decidedly light on content as a whole. It was an album that's quickly become much easier to look back on and think... "Yeah, I suppose that was all right" rather than actually listen to. This mixtape arrives on the heels of that, complete with Khalifa's apology for it's radio-bending nature as well as a promise Taylor Allderdice would be what fans of Kush & Orange Juice had hoped Rolling Papers would be. A variety of issues halt this tape short of that being the case, but I suppose one does have to tip a hat to Khalifa for trying. It's no Cabin Fever trainwreck of a phenomenon, that's for sure.
Stealing this tape are the producers and chief among them is Dumont. Other than Sparky Banks and Dope Couture he's the only unknown to me across these seventeen tracks, and yet with only two beats he's able to completely jack the spotlight. If you're aware of the production on albums like Uncut Raw by First Toke or Dwight Spitz by Count Bass D, the two tracks handled by Dumont are well worth a listen. Most of the other beats are handled by Taylor Gang's established players, with Cardo doing his typically enthusiastic stoner vibe while Big Jerm underwhelms a little compared to his previous work. You'll also hear Sledgren reprise his Chrono Trigger sampling from Kush & OJ with "Never Been Part II", a song that carries plenty of controversy with it considering Alley Boy released a song with the same sample a month earlier and a couple underground rappers have flipped it as well. I'm willing to take the high road and chalk it up to Yasunori Mitsuda's genius, though I'll wager the Alley Boy track is easily a cut above the more-hyped Khalifa, Rick Ross and Amber Rose cut. Spaceghostpurrp also appears (touch back on that later) along with Lex Luger, Jake One, Harry Fraud and Diddy's boy Rob Holladay, but it's mostly a Taylor Gang show. Even if you haven't touched Wiz's favorite fragrance in years you'll be transported to those dorm days of haze.
Eventually, however, one has to approach the touchy subject of Wiz Khalifa himself. If you're anything like me and you've been following him since his Pistolvania days it's even touchier. And so you've followed him from .45-toting battle rapper to Curren$y-aping weed enthusiast moving towards pop superstardom with a sort of awkward awe. Wiz always seemed capable of something bigger than other rappers, but to be where he is now really is stunning. So on that level it's certainly poppin' to see him where he's at. It feels earned. But there's a very subtle side of the rapper that feels lost or, more importantly, that feels integral to his persona. Early on in Taylor Allderdice that aura seems to be floating around but pretty quickly through it's middle section the idea of humility seems to disappear. See, a large part of Khalifa's entertainment value came from his reliability as a sort of nerdy playboy on a college campus, getting girls and smoking weed just... because. It was a simplistic caricature that made sense, but in his conceit that he's actively pursuing Kush & Orange Juice's vibe despite being an international celebrity, getting engaged to a super model and being able to do just about whatever he wants on his day to day...eventually it wears on Taylor Allderdice. Honestly -- perhaps even sadly -- it's hard to pinpoint when that moment is, but to me it feels inevitable. At some point during Taylor Allderdice, for all but the most willing to fantasize of Khalifa's listeners, there comes a point where his character becomes disconnected from his real-life persona. At the very least, his lack of topics becomes a crutch rather than an attribute.
Such is the price of fame, I suppose, because it's equally saddening to make that argument in the face of the good that's done here. Taylor Allderdice is framed by a lot of shit-smelling interview interludes -- in other words, rather than watch a ten-minute Youtube clip of Khalifa being interviewed it's split across seventeen tracks -- but that shit-smelling is at least partially deserved. Worth mentioning again is that Dumont's two contributions -- as well as the other producers in general, really -- are well worth mentioning. Interviews aside, Taylor Allderdice would be perfectly suited to being an album. And to even attempt to drag Juicy J into the 21st century for an entirely new audience, to an old school Three 6 Mafia stan such as myself, is so admirable it defies all logic. "Mary 3x" should also be awkwardly enjoyable for those who wish Max B weren't (probably) gone from the game for the rest of his life. But, you know, there's a reason critics and folks around you seem so ready to turn against Wiz Khalifa, and it just has to do with his intangible inability to make you feel like you're along for the ride. Even a ridiculous caricature like Young Jeezy or Ghostface Killah has knacks for bringing the audience along. Wiz, ultimately, feels like a person that's bragging. Telling rather than showing. Where Curren$y raps about Scooby Doo cartoons, Wiz raps about making money. It's fine, he does it well, but why care really?
Taylor Allderdice is, perhaps inevitably, a sort of unknowable quantity. It's so enjoyable on the melodic hand I almost feel stupid to criticize it. But on the other hand, it's so unenjoyable I'd almost me loathe to recommend it to anyone who's not already fully invested in the Wiz Khalifa career arc. Which is to say in total, try it, I suppose. The thing is free, and the beats are ridiculous and Wiz' flows aren't far behind. Just don't be surprised if you find yourself wondering what truly makes Wiz more vital than the dozens of other rappers who've filled his lane both before and after his ascendence. Taylor Allderdice raises the age old question of substance over sound in hip-hop, and for at least this one moment I just have to choose substance. Taylor Allderdice has a great feel but when my immediate and lasting takeaway is a wish that these beats could find a more tolerable home, it's hard to feel more than partially satisfied.