Wiz Khalifa Wanders Through Familiar Territory on ‘Khalifa’
Wiz Khalifa’s feud with Kanye West ended as quickly as it began. Tweets were deleted and the two superstar rappers made amends with each other, but it’s difficult to not think about a lot of what was said between the two when considering the rapper's newest record Khalifa.
The conversations that sparked from that brief beef made huge waves, even if it only lasted a few hours. It’s hard to escape the perceptions that were made in such a public feud when one of the parties drops a new album in the immediate aftermath of the event, even if bridges were rebuilt.
The words that keep coming to mind while listening to Khalifa is this one from Kanye’s since-deleted tweet storm: “3rd no one I know has ever listened to one of your albums all the way through.” It’s almost completely untrue, considering how many mutual collaborators and friends the artists have. Somebody between the two of them would have had to listen to a Wiz project all the way through.
Yet there’s a semblance of truth in the words. Wiz Khalifa is undoubtedly one of the biggest rappers on the planet, but he’s never been an “album artist." He has seven platinum songs, four top 10 hits and two No. 1 singles as a solo artist. However, only one of his albums, his 2011 major label debut, Rolling Papers, has even been certified gold by the RIAA. People all over the country and the world listen to Wiz Khalifa’s music, but they’re not buying his albums.
To dismiss Wiz’s catalog entirely based on the fact that his singles are better than his albums is ridiculous, though. He’s constructed a vast discography for over a decade and has some truly great projects in that mix. Those who only listen to the radio singles miss some of his best work. Wiz isn’t his best when he’s making these big, anthemic pop hits and guesting on Maroon 5 songs. He’s at his best when he’s just himself, a successful Pittsburgh guy who likes to chill and smoke a joint.
That’s the biggest strength of the Khalifa album. After experimenting with a more trap-influenced sound on Blacc Hollywood, Wiz comes back to the sounds that got him famous. When “Trap Wiz” showed up on some of his more recent work, it didn’t play to his skills. The sound of this album is a lot more playful and carefree overall, which is an atmosphere that works best with Khalifa. That also means that Khalifa is par for the course with Wiz.
He makes some of the best rap music for somebody to just vibe out and relax while listening, but that can only go so far. He still raps primarily about weed, Pittsburgh, girls and his success. If you’ve listened to Wiz in the past 10 years, you’ve probably heard something similar to what he does on Khalifa.
Wiz does have the benefit of having some of the best beat selection around, and that keeps Khalifa fresh. From the beautiful piano finale “Elevated,” thanks to I.D. Labs and Sayez, to the floating synths on the Finatik N Zac and Jim Jonsin-produced “Cowboy,” everything on the album sounds as sleek as you can get.
Khalifa likely won’t sway opinion of Wiz Khalifa, whether positive or negative. For better or worse, it’s a portrait of the rapper we’ve seen for years. It does do things a little more consistently and adds a little more detail than what we’re used to seeing. Wiz’s son has an adorable cameo on “Zoney,” which is a nice personal touch. Even “No Permission,” a song that’s been out for almost a year, has the added benefit of a new verse from Taylor Gang member Chevy Woods, which might be the best verse on the entire record.
Wiz may not be an “album artist,” but there’s enough on the Khalifa LP that shines to show he’s still a star.
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