Last year, a relatively unknown rapper from a city not traditionally known for hip-hop graduated from the mixtape circuit to the mainstream and became one of the biggest names in the business. That rapper was Drake, the cerebral MC from Toronto who immediately established himself as a major player. This year, that ascension story belongs to Wiz Khalifa, the Pittsburgh-based rapper who went from underground favorite to mainstream superstar almost immediately. In the wake of his chart-topping hit “Black and Yellow” (which was adopted by fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the team’s run to the Super Bowl) comes his major label debut Rolling Papers, a stout collection of ear-bending rhymes and smokey beats.
But does the album live up to the considerable hype surrounding Khalifa’s arrival? All signs point to yes. “The Pittsburgher’s debut on Atlantic is lyrically limited to getting high, stealing chicks, and blowing cash,” wrote Brad Wete in Entertainment Weekly in a B+ review. “Yet it burns with an underdog’s passion and a champion’s spite. Marijuana may not be legal, but Rolling Papers surely will be enjoyed and passed around among Wiz’s fans.”
Rolling Stone also approved of Khalifa’s approach, and critic Jon Dolan appreciated his reinvention of some tropes. “On Rolling Papers, Khalifa manages to give life to those kinds of cash-gorged perma-baked clichés by warmly luxuriating in the space between pop’s fresh-faced exuberance and hip-hop’s easy arrogance — between skater and playa, Bieber and Biggie,” he wrote. “Khalifa hustled for years to get his big break, suffering record-label indignities, releasing mixtapes and using Twitter to build a following. When he raps, ‘I don’t wanna wake up,’ on ‘Wake Up,’ you can’t help but hope his dream lasts a while.”
USA Today was slightly more lukewarm but ultimately gave Rolling Papers the benefit of the doubt. “Khalifa is certainly likable enough with his laid-back flow and knack for catchy rhymes over melodic beats,” wrote critic Steve Jones. “But he is limited thematically, with almost every song extolling the virtue of weed, women and the good life. All of that footloose fun is cool and all. The only problem is that there are only so many clever ways to describe the hedonism.”
Still, plenty of people seem on board with Khalifa — even the British. “Apart from some of the tedious subject matter, [Rolling Papers is] the sort of rap that deserves mainstream attention as it’s musically thoughtful and endearing beyond the dancefloor,” wrote BBC Music critic Lloyd Bradley. “These are the sort of songs that mainstream hip-hop needs, and would probably find much more entertaining than what tends to get pushed at it.”
And David Jeffries of the All Music Guide really nailed it. “Rolling Papers casts Khalifa as a more earthbound and approachable version of Kid Cudi, or Curren$y for the masses, both of which are meant as compliments,” he wrote. “While it’s misrepresented by its single and the mixtapes that surround it, it is purposeful mood music, perfect for bong loading or just hanging out.”
What do you think of Wiz Khalifa’s new album? Let us know in the comments!