Thanks to his 2010 time capsule hit “Black and Yellow,” 23 year-old Wiz Khalifa was a star long before “Rolling Papers,” his new major label debut, was released. Hook-saturated and amiable, “Papers” takes the hip-pop trend advanced by artists such as B.o.B. and runs with it; this is a hip-hop album for people who didn’t think they liked hip-hop albums.
Under the aegis of pop producers such as Stargate (the team responsible for Katy Perry’s “Firework,” perhaps one reason the disc is closer to Perry’s vibe than to, say, Eminem’s), “Papers” suggests an updated version of something by long-ago pop-rap titan Nelly, if Nelly sang a lot about blunts, gold diggers and driving around — which he may have done, it’s hard to remember.
(Courtesy of Atlantic Records) - Cover art for Wiz Khalifa's album ‘Rolling Papers’ (Courtesy of Atlantic Records)
“Rolling Papers” serves up singsongy playground hip-hop and a bumper crop of synthy jams, none of which displays an ounce of excess energy or a hint of venom, even the ostensibly mean ones. On “Rolling Papers,” everything is shiny, everything is cool, everything is mellow. There are even songs on it — ballads! — that sound like love songs.
If you’ve only heard “Black and Yellow,” you haven’t heard the best of Khalifa, who uses the great “Rooftops” to expound upon fame’s more realistic perks. Instead of drinking Courvoisier at strip clubs at 4 a.m., he waxes rhapsodic about eating at Whole Foods and drinking lemonade on fancy planes. “Used to not be allowed in the building / But now we on the rooftop,” he crows, though wouldn’t it be better if they let him inside?
Best of all is “Roll Up,” a flawless jam that’s soft around the edges: “All you do is pick the phone up, lady / And I’ll be there when you call,” Wiz wheezes sentimentally, adding, “I could be your best friend / And you be my homie.” It’s a summery hit in springtime that inhabits a category of its own: the Hallmark Banger.
“Roll Up,” “Black and Yellow,” “The Race”
— Allison Stewart