The latest album from Wiz is a bloated and expensive version of the rap he’s always made but without that signature effortlessness.
There was a time when a loosely buttoned, snapback-wearing Wiz Khalifa was making undeniably fascinating rap music. Eight years ago, when Wiz released Kush & Orange Juice, he did more than just stroll into the studio late at night, ask for a beat with some cowbell, and recap his day with a few weed puns thrown in. The appeal was the creamy flow, the ear for the smoked-out production that perfectly backed his exotic imagery, and a legitimate charisma that made him feel like an approachable star. Shit that should’ve been corny wasn’t, and instead, you wanted to experience his seemingly problem-free life for yourself. Within the last couple of years Wiz has got comfortable, enjoying his life as a father and rap superstar with a loyal fanbase. On his latest studio album, Rolling Papers 2, that comfort strips the album of all ambition—a bloated and expensive version of the rap he’s always made but without that signature effortlessness.
Sometimes the most fun music has low stakes. Playboi Carti’s recent Die Lit refreshingly didn’t set out to be a groundbreaking genre-changer but it’s impact rivaled all the self-serious major-label releases that screamed classic from the rooftops. The issue with Rolling Papers 2 is that, over the course of its absurd 25 tracks and 90 minutes, it feels like there are no stakes at all. Wiz is going through the motions aware he’s existing relatively pressure-free—similar to his mentor Snoop Dogg, who pops in on “Penthouse” to spit the same lethargic verse he’s been spitting since 2005. No matter what, as long as Wiz is still talking weed his fanbase will still scream for him and he’ll remain a star: the downside of depending so heavily on fans who don’t want you to change.
He falls back on old ideas, hardly taking any swings. “Ocean” nearly sounds like it was recorded in 2010, with longtime producer Cardo that’s reminiscent of Kush and Orange Juice’s “Mezmorized,” but it’s wasted on Wiz lifelessly making his way through what should’ve been an album standout. He also reconnects with Curren$y on “Mr. Williams/Where Is the Love,” but the chemistry the two had on their 2009 collaboration How Fly seems all but gone; and Curren$y’s once unparalleled descriptive ability to make the most basic picture become vivid is replaced with a half-assed, bitter verse about a woman who went to Dr. Miami (“She got a million dollar mouth/She was born with it/She went to Dr. Miami for the rest of the shit.”)
When Wiz isn’t rehashing old ideas, he’s forcing new ones. On “Real Rich,” Wiz gets an unusually weak Tay Keith beat that doesn’t have the bounce that catapulted Memphis’ BlocBoy JB into becoming rap’s Shoot-dancing superstar. His formerly calm and collected flow like he just faced a blunt solo in one sitting is instead drowsy leading you to wonder what happened to the artist whose presence magically transformed “We Dem Boyz” into an immortal club anthem. Then, Wiz falls further away from his comfort zone, creating the clumsy and downbeat “B Ok” a love ode nearing the bleakness of Drake’s “March 14th.”
Wiz feels most significant on Rolling Papers 2 when he takes advantage of the album’s length and endless funds to put some shine on unsung artists he genuinely appreciates. He calls on the late Pittsburgh rapper Jimmy Wopo to spread his contagious energy on “Blue Hunnids” and is eager to display his latest discovery, a California-based twin brother R&B duo named the MXXNLIGHT—who are given three songs here. As a booster and mentor to younger artists he’s excited about, Wiz tells us more about him than any track based on ideas from his 22-year old self ever could.
In some ways, an unexpected outlier of an album (for instance, Wiz singing Lil Tracy-esque country songs) would have been preferable to Wiz ambling along, hands in pocket, blunt behind ear through Rolling Papers 2. If anything, the album elevates the case for how difficult it was to make Wiz’s older music, where a slight tonal change could throw the whole thing off kilter. But really, Wiz should know better, all of his peers from that late ’00s boom (Drake, Kid Cudi, J. Cole, etc.) try things, have interests, have goals, even if they don’t come close to meeting them. But Wiz is just there, emotionless, still asking for some damn cowbell.