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Review: Wiz Khalifa Substantiates Kanye’s Claims and Little Else on ‘Khalifa’

4
SPIN Rating: 4 of 10
Release Date: February 5, 2016
Label: Taylor Gang / Rostrum / Atlantic
Sheldon Pearce // February 11, 2016

During a Twitter tirade in defense of Kim Kardashian — fallout from a misinterpreted tweet from Wiz Khalifa — Kanye West chucked a molotov cocktail of truth at the Taylor Gang rapper’s entire discography: “No one has ever listened to one of your albums all the way through.” It was a pointed bit of criticism lost in a wave of misogyny and self-serving rhetoric; the Wiz Khalifa catalog is not only spotty (at best), it’s boring. It has a clear expiration date on the packaging. The Pittsburgh rapper built his stoner brand brick-by-brick with a series of choice mixtapes  chief among them 2008’s Star Power, 2009’s How Fly (with firstmate Curren$y), and 2010’s Kush & Orange Juice  before scoring big with ’10’s “Black and Yellow”, a color-coded Pittsburgh anthem aided by the Steelers’ coincidental push to the Super Bowl. But the albums that followed  Rolling Papers, O.N.I.F.C., and Blacc Hollywood  were pale imitations of that early work, diluted to the most basic elements: weed-roller chic and sing-songy pop pizzazz. Everything started to feel predetermined and trite. Perhaps Khalifa was always unimaginative, but it never used to be so obvious.

After years on the chopping block as a deemed sellout, with fans saying they missed “the old Wiz,” it seems that Khalifa, the rapper’s self-titled sixth studio album, is a blatant attempt to appease the long-suffering diehards and recapture the best of his aesthetic. At his most compelling, Wiz was a purveyor of effortless cool with a laidback demeanor that sealed in the foulness emitted by his wordplay. But the cat is out of the bag: Wiz’s raps are empty and generic, so much so that he was the ideal vessel for a fallen action hero tribute song. He’s a star without presence, without complexion, the perfect patsy for peddling everyman platitudes about loss. The Puth-damned “See You Again” was so plain it could’ve been about anybody, allowing listeners to project onto it accordingly. His is a rare brand of hollowness, stanza upon stanza of saying next to nothing. There is a lot of that throughout this record. On “Elevated”, he recycles cliches: “And you can build it then the limit is the sky / Until then I’m with my niggas gettin’ high.” The closer, “iSay”, asks rhetorical questions that might have more value if Wiz asked them internally: “What can I say?/ What can I do?/ To show how much real shit a nigga do.” The answer is pretty simple: Nothing. There isn’t any real estate left to cover in his McStoner paradise.

Don’t tell him that, though. The Pittsburgh native is operating in his own deluded reality, one where he’s exceeding expectations. “This s**t isn’t as easy as it looks. It’s way f**king easier,” he boasts on “City View”, but that’s not even remotely the way it seems if you’re listening outside his kush cloud. Wiz often raps like he’s trying to smash a square block into a round peg; there’s little finesse to what he does, and his ideas are singular and um, bluntly stated, fixed in tenor and purpose. Yet, there isn’t enough force in his bars for them to be effective as instruments of havoc, mashing through cadences on sheer vocal dynamics. Instead, his phrases are inflexible and uneven, and his rhyme schemes are predictable, elementary even (see: “Celebrate” and “Cowboy,” specifically). There aren’t any memorable lines, just sustained filler: rhyming “plane” with “chain” and “car” with “star,” as he has on every project since 2009. This is such old hat by now it’s a stovepipe.

Despite its mind-numbing tedium, Khalifa does manage to muster up some standalone moments that find Wiz’s old time- and space-defying rhythm. The Travis Scott-assisted lead single “Bake Sale” feels like a thumping outtake from Scott’s own debut, Rodeo, and amidst big-budget collaborators TM88, Lex Luger, DJ Spinz, and Juicy J, Wiz delivers his most nimble performance. His sharpest rapping also features on the bass-heavy “No Permission” alongside Chevy Woods. Side by side with Taylor Gang signee Ty Dolla $ign, the two lay some incredibly lush harmonies on “Lit.” Wiz has a decent feel for hooks and occasionally does some interesting things with melody. But it’s simply not enough to retain interest. Sitting all the way through Khalifa one might call for some KK.