Wiz Khalifa, ‘O.N.I.F.C.’ (Rostrum/Atlantic)
Release Date: December 4, 2012
Just because something embodies the laid-back vibes of “weed rap” doesn’t mean it can’t be meaty. Curren$y is loving and meditative as he maintains a nearly zen pursuit of airplanes and Doritos, while DOOM constructs elaborate scenarios from behind a mask that probably has its own bong attachment. Devin the Dude giggles as he spouts off about sitcom-worthy what-ifs with Slick Rick clarity. As for the re-christened, increasingly less verbose Snoop Lion, well, hakuna matata.
In his prime Dogg days, Snoop traded in what many now term “swag.” The slippery smoothness of those consonants and vowels that, when bathed in Calvin Broadus’ murderous calm, somehow denoted a party. That’s what made the decidedly more PG-13 Wiz Khalifa want to be a rapper. He wanted Snoop’s invincible cool, that ability to say yes to everything, and still chill, blunted, on the sidelines. He wanted Snoop’s…crowdsourcing. So far it’s worked so well for Wiz that even Kanye West felt it strategic to pay his Amber Rose-related respects on “Cold.”
Well, it’s working commercially, but not critically. “Mood music for the mindless,” concluded one positive review of the 2011 Atlantic breakthrough Rolling Papers, one of the worst best-selling rap albums in recent memory. Having conquered simplicity on 2010’s fanatically received Kush and Orange Juice mixtape, Wiz settled for banal on the “official” debut, with hits like the stabbingly infectious/annoying “Black and Yellow” and the slightly more melodic “Roll Up” — not that ace synthesizers helped him temper his malfunctioning-droid vocal repetition. Kush was harmless, but the forced fun that followed was Kim Jong Un-level. If Wiz had diluted himself any further, his neck tattoos would’ve been removable by squeegee.
After piggybacking onto Maroon 5’s “Payphone” this year, Wiz wrote an apology to fans that half-admitted he was coasting on soulless pop-rap. So now his idea of returning to art is enlisting the Weeknd’s Abel Tesfaye, whose aesthetic hangs all over the spacious, 73-minute O.N.I.F.C.. Musically, this is easier to swallow. But turns out he was actually better off doing Smash Mouth jock jams. “Black and Yellow” made him triumphant because it soaked up a lot of hometown love (Pittsburgh, in case you couldn’t guess). But guys like Tesfaye and Drake are reflective individualists, while the man born Cameron Jibril Thomaz just doesn’t say anything worth faintly echoing through a reverb filter. At best, he can tell us about the ins and outs of that oft-reblogged $10,000-a-month weed habit.
In fact, only two tracks in, Wiz is already starting a pointless fuss about what some other guy can afford to blow in a club, over a congas-and-all lounge beat. “I’ve got so much money I think I should pay for all this / They ain’t down to spend how much they say ’cause they ain’t ballin’ / I’ve got so much paper I just spend it like it’s nothing / They don’t spend how much they say because it’s bluffin’.” This isn’t even pleasure-less money-counting. This is pleasure-less other-people’s-money-counting. No wonder Akon’s “Let it go, let it go, homie” hook on the next track is a rare highlight.
Clinging to the guest stars is crucial to getting through this thing — pros like Courtney Noelle provide basic hooks where the headliner’s own horrible mantras (“I got so much,” “Fall asleep”) fail completely. Somehow Pharrell advertising his Twitter account is the funniest moment here; Juicy J actually makes things worse by murking everyone. Clipse took far more visceral pleasure in the art of dealing cocaine — the colors, smells, ironies, characters — than Wiz ever does around the act of inhaling his drug of choice.
Over the course of the nine-minute “No Limits,” for example, you think he’d purchase something interesting once he “realizes” (ha) that he’s “never really goin’ broke.” Instead, we get “champagne in Rome” and leather seats. His crew gets “high as the mountains” — which ones, dude? Somehow admissions like, “I’m just doing what I do, man / Sticking to the script, no new lines” make you long for Curtis-era 50 Cent writing women checks just for enduring him being an asshole. You long for Game just reciting a laundry list of names.
Meanwhile, “Rise Above” wastes an underrated, latter-day Common-style beat on a sample of a woman firmly, repeatedly, intoning, “Sir!” for absolutely no reason; if she’s supposed to represent the airport security that is out to foil him from being the “Only Nigga in First Class” of the album title, the conflict or concept never really materializes. (Whoever heard of undercooked stoner logic?) Even his paranoia is lazy. “I like being high because it’s a better view,” 2 Chainz finally blurts out at one point, as if to quell the awkward silence from Wiz’s own refusal to cite a single memorable reason.
As for that conceptual collaboration with the Weeknd, “Remember You” is medium-gross: The line “I might have to take your number when I’m through with you / All I ask of you is try to earn my memory” is blessedly swathed in a tune no one will remember. “I spend a lot of nights thinking / How did I make it this far?” Wiz wonders halfway through. Shrugging answer: He must’ve worked hard. Since a good deal of the rapper’s shockingly unquotable repertoire is skillfully balanced in double- and triple-time syntax, that’s entirely possible. But he’s never played hard in his life.