Hate him or love him, it’s hard to argue that Wiz Khalifa hasn’t been one of the hardest working rappers in the industry lately. Building off of the buzz from his commercially successful – though heavily criticized – debut, Rolling Papers, he’s had one of the most productive 2012’s of any artist in music, and become one of its biggest, and most recognizable names. Dude’s been so busy, even the most casual hip hop or pop music listener can’t help but notice him, fan or not.
Despite touring for a majority of the past twelve months, he’s made time to drop 2 full length mix tapes, expand his label Taylor Gang (most impressively by adding Southern party rap legend Juicy J), released and co-starred in a feature with film Snoop Dogg (along with appearing on most of its soundtrack), and racked up at least a dozen high profile features. With his newly dropped sophomore effort, O.N.I.F.C. (Only Nigga In First Class), fans and critics alike will be able to see if the recently crowned king of commercially-focused rap will be able to maintain the almost unbelievably high level of fame he’s developed so far in his career.
While it’s impossible to guess exactly how this album is going to be received, commercially or by other critics, it’s safe to say that this release is going to be another strong step forward for Wiz the businessman. But, the same might not be able to be said for Wiz the artist. From start to finish, this one feels almost exactly like his last studio project, to the point where you could probably put both albums back-to-back, and have almost zero idea of where one started, and the next began. That might not be such a bad thing though (at least for the largest segment of his current fan base, and especially not for his wallet)…
For fans of the Rolling Papers Wiz Khalifa, and pop/party music fans in general, that’ll probably be great news. For fans of – and please excuse the hipster vibe of this statement – the “old Wiz” (don’t pretend you’re not out there…you know who you are), it’ll probably be a little frustrating, and maybe even a little disappointing. For those of you who are more into traditional hip hop, and don’t care much for the guy’s style already, keep on not caring. No matter which of those categories you fall into though, get ready to hear his music, because it’ll probably be every where you go for the next few months.
Lyrically, we get the now undeniably typical Wiz experience throughout, which focuses almost exclusively on weed, money, hard work, and ambition. In other words, don’t come into this one expecting to be intellectually stimulated. But, if you’re looking for an accessible, upbeat, and entertaining experience that doesn’t require too much thought – and is definitely less threatening than most modern party focused hip hop – this might be one of your favorite albums of the year.
Granted, Wiz Khalifa’s narrowly focused rhymes and simple deliveries and hooks don’t give the project much depth, and definitely make a few tracks feel like some unnecessary filler. But, there are a few highlights to note. Probably in line with the album’s target purpose, but not so much in line with Wiz’s weed loving persona, they happen to be the most aggressive or club friendly tracks. His work on O.N.I.F.C.’s lead single “Work Hard, Play Hard” has already led to one certified platinum effort, and rightfully so, but “It’s Nothin’ (feat. 2 Chainz), and “Up In It” might just be infectious enough to earn the same commercial reception. The two tracks which feature Juicy J, “The Plan” and “Medicated” definitely won’t remind anybody of his 3-6 days, but they’d easily have a fitting home on any house party’s playlist.
Unfortunately, when Wiz does slow thing down a bit here – which is the vibe he carries on his most well received older material – the results are borderline sleep-inducing, and don’t really capture the laid back, somewhat soulful feel that many associated with his early mix tapes. It is hard to deny the Weeknd’s presence on “Remember You” though, which will probably make the track a 1:30 am favorite at plenty of clubs for the next few months.
To be honest though, it is hard not to be a bit disappointed at points, since some of the biggest names in hip hop helped out on a few of the slower – and most generic – tracks here, including Pharrell (on “Rise Above”) and Cam’ron (on “The Bluff”). However, it should be noted that Tuki Carter outshines everyone involved with his appearance on the just mentioned, “Rise Above” – even though that might not be saying much – as Wiz’s soon to be wife, Amber Rose shows us all why Kanye didn’t let her rap years ago with a verse that sounds like a rough cut from Nicki Minaj’s last studio session…which is only a feeling amplified when Taylor Gang’s own LoLa Monroe does a much a better impression of Young Money’s resident lady MC (pop star?) a track later on “Initiation”.
Production wise, there really isn’t too much worth pointing out either, outside a few somewhat interesting beats, and the handful of tracks that we said had some serious potential. Everything is impeccably engineered and mixed, but with a few exceptions, is undeniably run-of-the-mill, and could definitely be classified as ridiculously generic.
For the most part, we don’t get much beside the now cliché genre-bending blend of hip hop, EDM’s idea of trap, and trance, which makes for more of a radio-pop sound than hip hop. As a result, it’s hard to say that any of these tracks really boast memorable or original beats, but they do bring some energy. “Fall asleep” does take the trance idea and runs with it extremely well, which might make for the most interesting sounding track on the album, and again, The Weeknd offers his signature style – though not as dark – a bit on the before mentioned “Remember Me”. The Will.I.Am provided “No Limit” though, much like the high profile features here, almost inexplicably falls completely flat.
Overall, O.N.I.F.C., is a solid follow up to Rolling Papers, in that it’s going to draw a gigantic and diverse fan base, due to the fact that its lighthearted, positive, and has some safe, yet polished production. Since it’s looking to be one of the biggest pre-holiday releases, it’ll probably do huge numbers too – which is definitely one of Wiz’s main goals. However, it’s tough to put it above other party focused albums that have come out in the past few months, including 2 Chainz’s debut, and G.O.O.D. Music’s, Cruel Summer. It’ll undoubtedly do great things for Wiz’s career and bank accounts, but from a hip hop lens, it really isn’t much more than an average, and ultimately forgettable, release. But, if you’re a Wiz die hard, or even a casual fan of “mainstream” or party appropriate music, it might be worth the purchase, and a few of the single’s are undeniably worth having in any music collection.