'Rolling Papers' Week, Day 5: A flash of brilliance among cornballs

Wiz Khalifa nods to the past before his Billboard takeover

April 01, 2011|By Wesley Case

13. “Fly Solo” (Produced by E. Dan)
The album’s most shallow, out-of-place party song has Wiz feebly attempting a Sublime-lite jam, which would seem ideal for a barbecue or frat party until you realize there’s hundreds of better shimmering, “feel good” tracks out there (including Sublime). “Fly Solo” immediately recalls Shwayze, the Malibu, Calif., bro-duo of Aaron “Shwayze” Smith and Cisco Adler that had their own MTV reality show, “Buzzin’.” Their schlocky, fun-in-the-sun songs were silly attempts at putting carefree beach life to tape, and E. Dan’s beat would sound at home on a Shwayze disc, with its prominent acoustic guitar and summery groove. Wiz doesn’t do the track any favors, completing his relationship-trilogy by dumping the girl from the previous song (“Top Floor”). Just like Miley, Wiz can’t be tamed, and before you know it, he’s back to single life. Wiz gets lazy on the hook, hoping the melody can cover it up: “But everything’s good ‘til it goes bad / And you gonna tell all the people about the fun you used to have,” he sings with a smile. But those lyrics don’t cut it, especially when, two songs ago (“Get Your S---”), the bridge is “Everything was all good then went all bad.” Does weed negatively impact songwriting, memory or both?

14. “Rooftops (feat. Curren$y)” (Produced by Bei Maejor and Clinton Sparks)
Rolling Papers’ second half is noticeably weaker than its first, so “Rooftops” works as a welcome detour. It pairs the rap blogs’ Cheech and Chong again (in 2009, Wiz and Curren$y released the mixtape How Fly together), and the result is a lung-filled hit of THC. If weed-rap is a genre (and it really is), then Wiz and Curren$y are its most notable players. And rather than using this notoriety to say something “important,” they stick to their bongs, riding the chilled-out outer-space “Rooftops” beat with audible confidence. There’s nothing flashy about it, and that’s the appeal — these are the same guys from that mixtape, back when they hoped the world would eventually catch on to their brand of rap. Wiz finally sounds at home on a beat (something missing on Rolling Papers since “The Race”), rapping, “You try to copy what’s been done, I’m trying to innovate / And club owners are getting tired of trying to ventilate, big mistake!” Ah, there’s the sense of humor that was absent on all of those relationship songs. Curren$y, a technically refined rapper in comparison to Wiz, rips “Rooftops,” opening with a lyrical nod to “Black and Yellow” and continuing with his usual tongue-twisting braggadocio. Curren$y’s verses are exercises in verbal dexterity, not in the sense of Bone Thugs or Twista, but in a more subtle, conflating way. “We plotted this out one night in the city / now we Los Angeles medicine cabinet twistin’” takes common Wiz themes (dreaming, smoking) and uniquely flips them. It’s what good rappers do.

Perhaps the best part of “Rooftops” is that it feels like a moment of fruition. It reminded me of “The Statement,” a Kush and Orange Juice standout. That track’s chorus: “Know we belong at the top but we ain’t trippin’ / Cuz we’ll get there in a minute.” “Rooftops” was Wiz’s vision (and Curren$y’s too, who recently signed his own major-label deal), and it’s finally a reality. His likely No. 1 debut on Billboard next week will certify it.

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