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It's just like Lasers all over again
on 5 April 2011
Wiz Khalifa's major label debut, Rolling Papers, has had considerable hype in the past few months. While he has made a few mixtapes and singles in the last 3 years, it was the Stargate-produced hit, 'Black and Yellow', that brought him from his underground reputation to a commercial, worldwide popularity. However, Rolling Papers is not entirely what you would expect in terms of music style, considering if you heard his music before he became mainstream. Nevertheless, the album gives the fans more of what they want, and as a result it turns out to be an enjoyable, yet slightly safe rap album, that doesn't aim to stretch the potential of Wiz Khalifa's talent.
Rolling Papers gets off to a good start with 'When I'm Gone', a futuristic and retrospective introduction, due to its interesting and unusual production and catchy chorus (this album is, for better or worse, full of them). For some reason, the album contains a lot of actual singing on Wiz's part, similar to Drake's moody 'Thank Me Later'. This track to me has a Drake-sounding feel to it. The next track, 'On My Level', instantly sounds like the down-tempo tracks found in his previous mixtapes, and is probably the only track on this album that actually sounds like what I expected would be on this album. The production is minimalistic and sounds like a traditional rap song, and is probably the song that actually sounds like true 'rap' rather than a crossover track. 'Black and Yellow' has great production from Stargate, a great chorus and a catchy melody. The beat is good too. However, I don't consider it real 'hip-hop'. Stargate make great pop music, but when they produce hip-hop songs (for example, Rihanna's What's My Name) it turns out to be more closer to 'hip-pop'. Despite this, the production is certainly great and while being nothing like his previous songs, is a great party song. 'Roll Up', the next song, is also made by Stargate. However, the first time I heard it I took an instant disliking towards it, especially due to it being the 2nd single. For one, this is DEFINITELY not proper hip-hop. The pop influences and instruments (especially the synthesisers) sounds nothing like his previous stuff. I reckon it's to do with the label (again, it is Atlantic - the record label screwing up Lasers to an extent) because the sudden style change wasn't doing it for me. However, after multiple listens, I like it now, because it's got a good beat and the bridge is rather relaxing. Also, I think the intention was for it to be a simple, catchy pop tune with hip-hop INFLUENCES, and in that case, it does work. 'Hopes and Dreams' isn't very good, to be honest. The production is quite bland and the song is very skippable. 'Wake Up' has a good chorus and feels like a slowed down version of 'Roll Up'. Again, the production is synth-heavy but very mellow, sort of in the style of Drake. 'The Race' is no doubt the highlight of the album, thanks to its wonderfully dreamy production and great beat. This does feel like a proper hip-hop song, finally. It reminds me of chilling outside in the summer, definitely a very breezy track. 'Star Of The Show' has a hypnotic, enticing beat that continues the Drake-feel and laid-back feel to Rolling Papers. 'No Sleep' is undoubtedly a pop song, albeit with an infectious beat and catchy chorus. While you can tell this is just for the mainstream to eat this track up, its charm and hilarious lyrics more than make up for its commercial, poppy production. 'Get Your ****' highlights how many of these songs on the album have a catchy, vocal chorus. The beat is good yet feels a bit tired, due to it similarity with previous tracks. 'Top Floor' contains very strange sampling but it actually works well, continuing the relaxing, silky smooth feel to the album. 'Fly Solo' is quite different to the rest of the album, going for more of a 'Travie McCoy' style of hip-hop, infusing alternative rock elements. Unfortunately, the results are horrible. The chorus for one is grating, and it doesn't really work well for Wiz. 'Rooftops' returns the album to its nonchalant roots, but this time the melody is just annoying. There isn't anything special about the song. 'Cameras' is a solid end to the album, with a subtly uplifting production and chorus. The chorus is very poppy, though (in fact the song itself is good but just doesn't feel like real hip-hop).
All in all, Rolling Papers is a very good start to Wiz's career in the music industry. Let's just hope in his next effort he will be given more freedom to continue to think outside of the box like his previous music, rather than be forced to make commercial hip-pop songs, which won't provide an opportunity for him to showcase his true potential.