Wiz Khalifa – “Khalifa”

Grade: C

Key Tracks: “BTS,” “Zoney”

Wiz Khalifa’s new, half-eponymous release is his sixth studio album, and it comes out right in the middle of a stacked month for him. Khalifa was, now infamously, involved in a quick Twitter feud with Kanye, in which the only real winner was Amber Rose. West – rightfully – attacked Khalifa for a career’s worth of mediocre music, and then – not rightfully – brought his ex-wife and son into the mix. Brushing that aside, Khalifa is up for a major Grammy nomination, for Song of the Year for the Furious 7 song “See You Again,” with Charlie Puth. Perhaps unexpectedly, this was an apropos time for him to drop a studio album.

And it’s okay. Khalifa has never been interested in being a truly innovative rapper, nor has he ever gotten political. Those are critiques in 2016 – the rap scene is getting more and more bloated, with seemingly hundreds of famous rappers trying to find their unique voice (and many of them doing it through rough, political tracks). This is, much like his previous album “Blacc Hollywood,” just a passable rap album.

There’s more interesting things going on from a musical standpoint than on “Hollywood,” which was just boring all-around. The more energetic songs have some oomph that was missing before, and there’s decent use of piano lines throughout that complement trap beats. And “Call Waiting” sits at the midpoint, breaking up monotony with some reggae that ends just before wearing out it’s welcome (although the Fugees reference at the beginning – undeserved). A tender moment happens at the end of “Zoney,” when he brings his young son into the recording (which comes off as a Win, given Kanye’s recent and incredibly inappropriate comments towards the child). There’s also a general lack of the empty ballads that divided “Blacc Hollywood,” with Khalifa sticking more closely to bangers and weed songs.

And weed songs aplenty. All but one, I think. There’s at least three songs that start with the sound of Khalifa smoking. He raps about buying weed, smoking weed, listening to songs he can smoke weed to, you know, diversity. The 6+ minute track “Lit” seems like it might be something innovative for Wiz, given it’s length, but it’s just him (and Ty Dolla $ign) rapping about weed for six minutes instead of four. Lead single “Bake Sale” is a corny joke, some of the corniest lyrics on the album. Every single song disappoints, lyrically, and although Khalifa’s flow has improved, he just sounds uninspired. He wanted to be known as a “weed rapper,” and he pummels us with that so much that he has become his own parody; his own walking advertisement for a product that cannot actually exist. In a world where rap is changing by the week, Khalifa is throwing himself into the heyday of three years ago – and he’s being left behind.

-By Andrew McNally

Advertisements

Wiz Khalifa – “Blacc Hollywood”

Grade: C-

Key Tracks: “Promises” “Stayin Out All Night”

The best hip-hop albums are either wide-ranging, embracing different emotions and musical styles (“Beyonce”), or are directly consistent, pulling all of their material from the personae of the people behind it (“Straight Outta Compton”). “Blacc Hollywood” is neither of these, and it isn’t a great hip-hop album because of it. Rather, “Blacc Hollywood” starts with a call, a semi-political, semi-social trumpeting of the new ‘Blacc Hollywood,’ before quickly diverging into inconsistent weed songs and rough-childhood ballads. “Blacc Hollywood” wants desperately to have a point, but it never does.

The biggest fault with “Blacc Hollywood” is the lack of any flow. Khalifa tries to embrace different influences with the pairing of ballad “Promises” and weed song “KK” close to the beginning, but it only comes off as two disagreeing songs that don’t fit at all. It isn’t laziness – it’s ambition and ideas, without knowing how to execute them. The ideas on “Blacc Hollywood” compete rather than complement. “House in the Hills,” a ballad about not wanting to raise his son in the world he was raised in, doesn’t sound complete with the vain club banger “We Dem Boyz” popping up three songs earlier. This early disconnect faults the album’s second half, which is more consistent but less noticeable.

Indeed, Khalifa’s writing on this album isn’t that remarkable. “We Dem Boyz” has been getting airplay since it’s release in February, but there’s really nothing to the song. It’s a glorified chorus with little change for 3:45. His personal songs are honest and gut-punching, but the others are often too predictable (look no further than “Ass Drop”). Later album track “Stayin Out All Night” is helped by a huge, fuzzy, banging beat, but it’s in the middle of a string of forgettable songs.

Some guest spots do help the album – Ty Dolla $ign shows up on two different tracks, as do fellow Taylor Gang rappers Juicy J, Chevy Woods and Project Pat. Curren$y shows up on the honest “House in the Hills,” and Nicki Minaj drops a spot on the largely excellent closer, “True Colors.” (Unfortunately, a proposed collaboration with Adele was never more than an idea – how weird would that be? Bring new meaning to “Rolling in the Deep”).

So “Blacc Hollywood” isn’t Khalifa at his best. He’s more treading water – fueling a fanbase with self-serving bangers and ballads without offering anything great or consistent. It doesn’t come to a point, and it doesn’t flow like a hip-hop album should. Khalifa sounds fine on his own, but there isn’t anything noteworthy going on around him. As confused as it is average, “Blacc Hollywood” deserves a spin or two at a house party, but little more than that.

-By Andrew McNally