On his sixth album, Wiz Khalifa keeps the production varied and employs the easy-going flow we've come to love him for-- but is it enough?
As time continues to edge its way further, a rapper's career seems to warp underneath the passing moments. For some, greater success or second stages have come to them only after years of hard work. Others have stagnated, or maybe the years have just caught up to the reality of their talent. Wiz Khalifa isn't one of those rappers, because quite frankly, one might say that beyond his family life, not one aspect of Wiz has changed in so many years. However, in a year full of personal turmoil including his newfound status as a divorcee and being assaulted by police over riding a hoverboard, one would think a change would occur in him, and early leaks, such as “Smoke Chambers” and “Refresh / Say No More” did hint at a Wiz who was reaching for some sort of lucidity beneath all the weed haze. Even his biggest recent hit was a ballad to the passing of the late "Fast & The Furious" actor Paul Walker, a weird one-off featuring the an atypical gesture of sentiment coming from Wiz (although, overall, it was a corny pop endeavor with Charlie Puth). With all this lingering in the background, it seemed as if Khalifa might be the start of a new phase of the rapper's career.
On his sixth album, Wiz Khalifa appears to be still ever as cohesive and solid a rapper as far as technique goes. While he's never been the man to be obsessed with multisyllabalistic tongue-twisters or rhythmic chops, he's been a considerable student of MCs such as Snoop Dogg, Baby Bash and Project Pat for whom the most important goals are rhyme placement and flow. No matter what the record being provided to him, be it his more uptempo trap-style material or his more beatless drifting material, Khalifa never, ever sounds out of place, and it's a considerable skill for any rapper who's been working at it this long. But this becomes important when you dig through Khalifa, and start to deal with just how incredibly dense the production is on this album.
For a long time, Wiz has proudly remained on the pulse of every trend in rap. Euro-pop infused rap? “Say Yeah.” Lex Luger's trap militance? Cabin Fever. The then-nascent ratchet/RnBass movement? Cabin Fever 2. Lest we forget, Trap Wiz on 28 Grams. He's been on everything from Cardo's smoothed-out haze to the low-end vertigo of Spaceghostpurrp, and never once sounded particularly opportunistic. Now if anything, that suggests that Wiz has just been very lucky at noting sonic trends and getting access to them before they became passe. Yet on his new album, we have Wiz embracing all kinds of elements of music, in a blend that sounds rather uniquely Wiz. After all, does anyone else in the rap game feel the need to experiment with Willie Mitchell-type soul arrangements like he does on “Call Waiting” or the Detroit techno echoes on SAP's beat for “City View”? No matter what is offered, Wiz manages to hit homeruns on every record, offering up catchy hooks and capable flows as if it were perfectly natural to rap on music this far-reaching.
It isn't just the sort of production value that have made this album so intriguing an offer from Wiz. Truth be told he is attempting to dig deep on this album, which for someone like Wiz, who's discography pretty much consists of loose brags about pretty women, good weed, having fun, and not hating despite being hated upon, is a milestone. Has Wiz suddenly pulled a Kendrick Lamar and overloaded his music with storytelling and content? No, nothing that bold. Yet, he's slowly but surely attempting to reveal some of the layers beneath the surface for his career. On the Jim Jonsin administrated “Cowboy,” Wiz attempts to provide us with a rare moment of genuine autobiographical content. Plus on “Zoney,” produced by long lost Atlanta wonder Knucklehead, Wiz lets his son Sebastian have moments of airtime, making the song quite personal. In a world where rap is so overloaded with posture and persona, it's an intimate gesture that can't be ignored.
Unfortunately, the album is not without its weaknesses. Single “Bake Sale” echoes all too closely Travis $cott's previous release "Antidote," the way that Wiz's “We Dem Boyz” lazily echoed Chief Keef's work with Young Chop. But what really weighs the album down is the fact that Wiz Khalifa simply isn't able to commit to really letting his songs mean all that much. For the most part, Khalifa feels like so much more of the same from him content-wise, and the missed moments (such as that nasally and excessively-processed-sounding hook on “iSay” go from 'eh' to 'UGH', or the lazy Project Pat impersonation on “Most Of Us”) really drive that home. The unfortunate result of Wiz Khalifa taking one step forward to bare his soul, is that every time he returns to the old Wiz, it feels like six steps backwards.
At the end of the day, Khalifa is not going to be the album that silences those who have always looked down at Wiz, nor will this record win over the fans who've felt burnt out from his output over the last few years. Yet there is something unquestionable here, the sound of an artist who's spent so many years always being the guy who is perfectly adept at the changing times, starting to move off into his own orbit. Perhaps this album won't find the radical break needed to help carve out a fresh identity for Wiz, after having been a trend-setter for so long. However, if anything, this record indicates that such a musical moment from Wiz Khalifa might not be too far off.