Stargate, Jim Jonsin, Benny Blanco, I.D. Labs, Papa Justifi, Oak, King David, Bei Maejor, Noel “Detail” Fisher, Lex Luger
March 29, 2011
Top Two Tracks:
“Black and Yellow” & “Fly Solo”
|Rarely has an album with such a well-attuned balance between inventive sounds and pop mentalities been layered with such regularly insipid lyrics. While I still tread lightly in my reviews of the hip hop genre – understanding that I, in my suburban white-breadedness, may never truly relate to the timeless themes of “bitches and champagne,” as Khalifa sings – I simply refuse to believe that an album like Rolling Papers, with its beautiful backing vocals, ambitious arrangements, and hints at more insightful commentary, is not shooting for the lowest common denominator with its constant topical return to hos, weed, and partying. Now, don’t get me wrong: I enjoy a good song about hos, weed, and partying just as much as the next listener, but when nearly every song is layered thickly with misogynistic, drug-soaked lyricism, I begin to feel numbed to the insensitivity.
Clearly, Wiz Khalifa has more potential than he is capitalizing on, evidenced by the big, bad swagger of the gorgeously catchy “Black and Yellow” and the acoustic framework of the surprisingly bright power pop track “Fly Solo.” Of course, he makes good on the double entendre implicit in the title, played out in “Roll Up,” and more fully explicated in a recent Rolling Stone magazine review.
The middle of the album truly dips in quality, though the tracks are musically inventive, including interesting usage of electric guitar and synthesizers on what is perhaps the worst track, “Hopes and Dreams,” second only perhaps to “Star of the Show” and third to “Top Floor.” “Wake Up” is more likely to induce the opposite reaction, though the middle shows off a vocal sensitivity not present elsewhere. “The Race” is hardly excellent yet prominently displays Khalifa’s mastery of beats and catchy tunesmithing.
It is, however, the penultimate track, “Rooftops,” that perhaps best hints at Khalifa’s potential when he juggles bald-faced materialism and misogyny with social commentary, listing off his conquests, affecting cocky, yet singing, “Used to not be allowed in the building, now we on the rooftops, rooftops.”
For all the issue I take with the uneven quality of the album, it is bookended well, “When I’m Gone” serving well as the opener and “Cameras” aptly closing the disc. All in all, Khalifa has my attention, and I can only hope that his next record contains lyrics that are as thoughtful as his musical arrangements.