If pot smoking were a sport, few would disagree that Wiz Khalifa would be its Michael Jordan. With the exception of perhaps Snoop Dogg, no single rapper has been more outspoken about his illicit herbaceous forays than the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-representing rapper of 2011’s No. 1 hit “Black and Yellow.” But Khalifa has struggled to regain his form following 2011’s Rolling Papers. His 2012 album O.N.I.F.C. was a critical disappointment, and solo success for the husband of model Amber Rose is becoming increasingly rare.
Hip hop has been trending out of favor with the mainstream, and the overall commercial landscape for pop rap (the kind of music one would expect from a Wiz Khalifa studio effort) has become much less forgiving. That said, there’s much more riding on the success of his latest studio album, Blacc Hollywood, than Wiz Khalifa would perhaps like to admit.
If Blacc Hollywood was supposed to be the album to revive Wiz Khalifa’s career and launch the rapper back into hip hop relevance, listeners might as well break out the coffin and nails right now. The rapper’s sixth studio album is a departure from his previous work in the worst way: it lacks the cocksure edge of his mixtape efforts “Kush & OJ” or 2012’s “Taylor Allderdice” and the pop-friendly sensibilities of Rolling Papers. Instead, Blacc Hollywood is a mediocre plate of half-baked musical decisions.
Blacc Hollywood opens up with Khalifa rapping familiar misogynistic tropes on the hook of “Hope” featuring Ty Dolla $ign. He raps “Hope you got thousands in your pocket ‘cause she ain’t lookin’ for love / Hope you pop a lot of bottles ‘cause she ain’t lookin’ for love.” Khalifa better hope his listeners aren’t looking for much else in his lyrics, either, because barring any of the countless references to marijuana, the lyrics in Blacc Hollywood, for the most part, were just summarized in those two lines. The rapper squanders an otherwise banging beat of icy synths and a gritty bassline to remind his listeners that “Money, clothes and drugs, that’s what b-tches love.”
Things don’t improve much on the album’s first single, “We Dem Boyz,” which takes a trap-inspired beat that would have sounded outdated last year and finds Khalifa in 50 Cent nursery rhyme territory, rhyming the words “bottle,” “swallow,” “follow,” and telling us that he’s “smoking weed in [his] Mercedes” and that “these n—as broke, these n—as lazy,” which is funny only because Khalifa’s lyrics on “We Dem Boyz” sound uninspired to the point that they fail to operate even as self-parody.
The album’s sole highlight unfortunately doesn’t involve Khalifa at all. The track “KK” featuring Project Pat & Juicy J takes drug dealing in hip hop to a meta-level when Khalifa advertises his own personal strain of marijuana, “Khalifa Kush,” but it’s the reunion of brothers Juicy J and Project Pat that makes the track. Project Pat’s syncopated rhymes skitter confidently over the Jim Jonsin-produced banger and Juicy J’s smooth, languid flow sounds more comfortable rapping about Khalifa Kush than Khalifa himself.
“A– Drop” deserves mention if only for its completely puzzling progression. The track opens as a genuine club smash — a staccato of pitched vocal samples create a strangely sinister melody while rapid-fire tongue clicks punctuate a thundering, relentless bass line. Relative to his lackluster effort on the rest of the album, Khalifa sounds almost preternaturally confident, his rapid-fire delivery sounding just at home on what’s sure to be an absolutely banging album highlight. And then, the inexplicable happens — the hook mellows out into warm, dream-like synths that you would expect to hear on an opening theme for an ‘80s daytime soap opera. Khalifa insists on appreciating the female anatomy despite the marked tonal shift, rapping “Made me get a couple bands, drop it down on it.” The effect is absolutely jaw-dropping in all of the wrong ways. The track vacillates between “ferocious nod-inducing club banger” and “the opening theme from The Guiding Light c. 1986” one more time to let us all know that this isn’t a test — Wiz Khalifa, his producers and whoever green lights these solo projects at Atlantic Records have all collectively lost their minds.
Two years ago in the fall elections of 2012, Colorado and Washington state voted to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, but the decriminalization of marijuana made it lose some of its edge and appeal. After a foray into the mainstream, Wiz Khalifa is struggling to recapture novelty in a musical genre that was tailor-made for those who go against the grain. So as the illicit allure of marijuana begins to weaken, so too, it seems, does the brash bravado and the surprisingly paper-thin swagger of the genre’s chief marijuana consumer. Kurt Cobain once wrote (quoting Neil Young) that “it’s better to burn out than to fade away.” Whether it’s for better or for worse on Blacc Hollywood, Wiz Khalifa begs to differ.