Thursday, April 07, 2011

"We Fly, I Mean so Fly We Need a Whole Wing TGOD"

You’ve been asleep for quite a while if you think @REALWIZKHALIFA is a new artist or that nobody knew about him before Black and Yellow caught fire. In 2006 he was called a new artist to watch by Rolling Stone, only to cover the same magazine five years later when he released his first, highly anticipated album. Again, not his first, second, but his third studio album has everyone taking notice and joining the army that has become Taylor Gang.

From a first hand account when I saw him in concert a couple months back, I wrote about how I felt like I was missing something when everyone in the crowd knew verses word for word from tracks off mixtapes he did years ago. Other than @drakkardnoir, you just don't see that type of die hard fandom very often where fans can go years back to a mixtape and know every word. It's hard enough to get people to listen to your studio album, let alone a free mixtape. I also noted in my review how his sound caters to a huge demographic of suburban white kids. They are the type of Hip Hop fans who are drawn to white collar living. Ironically, they are also drawn to the in-your-face rebelliousness of Wiz’s music, highlighted by rampant Kush smoking. Add easily understood, repeatable lyrics that aren’t littered with the N word and you’ve got a style that a 15-30 year old white kid can get down with.

Rolling Papers is no different. He makes easy listening Hip Hop, characterized by chilled out rhythms that are more Pure Moods sounding than 808. The tone is set on the first track When I'm Gone, with a full minute of peaceful piano giving way to characteristically audacious lyrics. The persona of a Taylor is epitomized by the hook where Wiz harmonizes:
"I'm gonna spend it all
Why wait for another day?
I'ma take all this money I own
And blow it all away
Cause I can't take it when I'm gone"
After the intro comes the three high profile singles with the @IAmJimJonsin produced On My Level, Black and Yellow, and Roll Up. On My Level stands out on the album because it's the only track on the album produced by an industry heavyweight, so some may argue it doesn't mesh well, but tempo and hook wise it fits perfectly with the exaggerated, slow rhythms and mellow harmony. I don't even need to touch on how classic Black and Yellow turned out to be, but it's interesting to note I posted it on September 26th, literally 6 months before Rolling Papers dropped. Crazy how long anticipation has been building for his album and that it took 5 months for the second single Roll Up to drop. It ended up being a great decision because it kept the ball rolling with another radio friendly Stargate produced, smooth, synthy, feel good track.

As far as the album review is concerned, to me the review starts here because damn near every album these days begins to fall flat on their faces after the glitter of the singles wears off. Anyone can get a top 25 single on the radio, but it's rare for an album to keep my attention for the duration. As I started track 5, Hopes and Dreams, I was hesitant because the letdown was beginning as I wasn't a fan of the track. It's a little too slow for my liking and was too much of a mundane sing along. Luckily, as I skipped to the next track I was immediately drawn in by the third Stargate produced track Wake Up. The back and forth steady knock of the beat fits Wiz's delivery to a T like Taylor. If you want to hear him in his zone, listen to the first verse on this track. Dude even sings his own bridge, opting against the cliche T-pain or Akon collab sound and instead going with his own sound, which is beyond admirable considering how easy and popular it is to fit the industry norm...serious #Daps&Lbs for that.

Next, The Race is a dreamy, zoned out track that lands softly on the ear drums, emanating a soothing vibe throughout the track. To say it's a chill track is an understatement and doesn't do justice to the uniqueness of the guitar backbone on the beat. Star of the Show was filler track number two on the album, just not my cup of tea. Luckily, like the first filler, it was followed by one of my favorites, his third single off the album No Sleep. This will be a late spring, early summer anthem that has already reached the heights of the first two singles. The song makes me think of summer break in college when you didn't have a job or care in the world and all you did was party. No Sleep is perfectly suited for teenage/college kid consumption, emphasizing what matters to people in their late teens/early 20s, livin it up on the weekend. Again, perfectly nailing his demographic, which will only serve to convert more college kids into TGOD believers.

Get Your Shit is an emotional ballad that shows a lesser seen, vulnerable side of Wiz, as he tells his own breakup story saying, “I swear I love you but this ain’t right for us”. The back and forth knock and glee club style harmony on Top Floor sucks you in with an out of left field, tribal vibe on the track. Fly Solo is a nice acoustic change of gears, showing a little versatility in his sound by opting against the heavy Hip Hop beat and catering to a more contemporary sound. Rooftops continues the harmonic sound of the album with an echoing hook that offsets the aggressive, high caliber lyricism and chemistry shared between Wiz and @currensy_spitta.

The final track on the album, Cameras, is without a doubt my favorite on the album. It’s a feel good track with uplifting lyrics that go together perfectly with the upbeat, head nod worthy beat that keeps your attention with the calming guitar riff throughout. It's got a repeatable sound and genuinely happy feel to it, which ends up being a perfect way to cap the album. It won't be hard to imagine this as a final single to carry home the final push for sales and keep building on the 191K first week sales.

Wiz Khalifa - Cameras (prod by E.Dan)

All in all, Rolling Papers is front to back fresh. By my count there are only two out of 14 tracks I skip when listening to the album and that's very rare considering my on-to-the-next-one taste for music. He deserves credit for the homegrown sound, opting against the inclusion of typical hooks by Akon, T-pain, Chris Brown, or Trey Songz and instead singing the chorus on every song. I wouldn't call him a singer or say he's always on tune, but his own soft harmony maintains cohesion between verses and defines his style, making it unlike anybody else in the game. Sure his hooks are mostly sing-songy, but I’d argue that his G-funk sound is a continuation of the style Snoop, Warren G, and Nate Dogg coined a decade ago. The Grammys this year were another glaring example of how Hip Hop is still not on level ground with less controversial, more traditional genres like Country, Folk and Rock, but with Wiz, Drake, Cudi, and B.O.B. bringing a more contemporary, easy listening sound to Hip Hop, it’s only a matter of time before you'll see a true Hip Hop act perform at the Super Bowl.

Also noteworthy was that Wiz has his own Boi-1da in E Dan (@idlabsmusic) who did a great job in crafting a different sound that further differentiated Wiz’s sound from anything else in Hip Hop. The three Stargate tracks mixed with his production are instrumental (pun intended) in shaping the dreamy calmness that's comparable to Kid Cudi’s music, but a lot more middle of the road lyrically and generally happy in comparison. Call it happy stoner rap, rather than depressing stoner rap, with the contemporary instrumentation (plenty of acoustic guitar) that you’d hear on B.O.B.’s music. For a 23-year-old that smokes copious amounts of weed, he's undeniably smart/experienced enough to understand why his fans enjoy his music. With lines like, "Got money minor league turn major, Got money white people turn neighbors" on Wake Up and, "No socks in my boat shows now a n**** eatin’ good like whole foods” on Rooftops, he's not trying to make trap rap like T.I. or Pusha T, he's staying true to who he is and where/how he grew up no matter what type of Hip Hop fan he attracts. Five years ago his Hip Hop peers would have looked down on his style and called him "soft" for not rapping about drugs, guns and bitches, but now, thanks largely in part to artists like Drake, Cudi and B.O.B., Hip Hop has moved away from the harshness of Gangsta rap in favor of a more listen-able, relate-able and instrumentation based sound that I'm clearly excited about. #YouShouldBeToo

As a result of non-leaked, extremely well done tracks like No Sleep, Cameras, Wake Up and Top Floor, I'm giving Rolling Papers a 4 out of 5 headphone grade. It surpassed my expectations in both quality and quantity, firmly planting himself in my live starting 5 of up and coming MCs. Keep it up Wiz and I'll see you this weekend...

BONUS: Below are two recent videos and my favorite track on the album, Cameras for your viewing/listening pleasure.

Wiz speaks on trimming the features and "saving the suspense of future bigger collaborations" on Rolling Papers.

Interview with Ground Breaking Productions answering the basic pre-album question like what it feels like to be Taylor Gang and how it feels to come up like he has.


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