Displeasure and shock will overcome fans who remember Wiz Khalifa from Burn After Rolling andKush & Orange Juice. After signing with Atlantic Records, Khalifa has seemingly adopted a pop persona, flooding his tracks with cooing choruses and melodic vocals. In a nutshell, veteran Khalifa listeners will accuse him of “selling out.” But to the new age, suburban, J. Crew-wearing, self-proclaimed Taylor Gang — the crew Khalifa rolls with — Rolling Papers will be a popular collection.
Production saves the day for this album. Listeners will be overwhelmed by the piano and strings buildup in the opening track “When I’m Gone” and will bob their heads to the self-reflecting,finale “Cameras.” Other songs like “Flying Solo” throw a huge curveball in style — producer Ernest “E.” Dan layers a Taylor Swift-style, country-pop guitar riff with synthesizers.
In “No Sleep,” Benny Blanco of “California Girls” fame composes a textured Top 40 beat, mixing drums, piano, guitars and synths into a symphony, accompanying rhymes about partying all weekend. While the subject matter yells signature Wiz, the sugary sweet Katy Perry element seems like a paradox.
Adding to this fiasco, almost every song caters the same sing-song brand of chorus and bridges, with the most painful of which being “Roll Up,” Khalifa’s pathetic attempt at a love ballad.
But the album does offer some glimmers of the pre-“Black & Yellow” era. The second promotional single “The Race” brings listeners back to Khalifa’s mixtape days. It’s an easy listen: a soft chorus with appropriate vocal ranges mixed alongside poetry about how the “world turning, the weed burning / them hater’s talking, I keep earning.” Building upon this philosophical premise, “Rooftops,” the penultimate track, revives the album by reminding listeners of Wiz’s undeniable lyrical prowess. He is accompanied by the best of the album’s three guests: old friend Curren$y, who compliments Khalifa with his unadulterated flow.
In the end, Rolling Papers will likely reach over a million copies sold and will cement Khalifa as a profitable and popular artist. However, it will also alienate an entire fan base that will reject his new style. Only the instrumentals and a handful of songs keep this album from being pop, but at least it will still satisfy hungry customers looking for new theme songs to their weekend nights out.