Wiz Khalifa has managed to float in the outer circle of public embrace for practically his entire career, evading the ensnares of celebrity pitfalls in the form of meaningless controversy. Outside of a questionable new line that's got the internet ablaze, the rollout of his new album Rolling Papers 2 proves that, when it comes to career armor, Khalifa is bulletproof. He stays to himself, smokes his ganja, and takes care of his family. He's a case point for rappers looking to stay out of trouble — stay to yourself and do just what pertains to you, you'll be a lot happier and richer in the long run.
Rolling Papers 2 comes after a four-year commercial hiatus from Wiz where his commanding presence was sorely missed. Being that he's not a lyrical or conscious workhorse of the likes of Kendrick Lamar or J. Cole, he should have been easily replaceable. But there's an intangible element to his music, probably coming from a career of opaque clouds of weed smoke, that only he has; meaning that when he drops, it's always a celebrated event. Sixteen mixtapes and six albums later, Wiz is still one of the game's most prominent figures — even if he isn't technically one of the best. But his presence, prestige, and star power are one-of-a-kind.
With a six-album catalog for the masses to consume, figuring out which is a personal best could be a daunting task. Especially if one plans on finding an entry point into the commercial throws of Wiz and Taylor Gang because, let's face it, it's perfectly acceptable to live off of Kush and OJ and Taylor Allderdice for the rest of one's life. The breadth of artistic creativity on display on his mixtapes is only second to his albums. For everyone, here is our list of Wiz Khalifa's albums, ranked from worst to best.
6 | Show And Prove
Twenty-five tracks of a polished Wiz Khalifa on Rolling Papers 2 may be a scary thought to grasp, but 17 tracks from a raw Wiz is a little scarier. Released in 2006, Wiz was 19 years old and barely knowledgeable about who he was as an artist. Because of that, he cosplayed in the booth as the hardest drug-dealing gangster in town. On an album comprised of nearly all boilerplate mid-aughts bass-driven shrivel, Wiz's brazen voice was often caught in between the thud of 808s. It even felt inauthentic too, with his attempts at massaging his gangster ego coming off as eye-rolling at best. In "Stay In Ur Lane," he raps: ""Coward, in my advice you should think twice / Before you cross the path of a real nigga livin' street life / Who pull cards and reach for they heat right / N' you'll get smoked like the trees in the peace pipe."
This kind of empty threat is far removed from his later music, but it still stands out as unnecessarily garish when, on "Pittsburgh Sound," he raps, "I'm not the type that you would call 'em a thug / But I'm a hustler it's all in my blood", practically taking back all that he said before. Whilst being confused, "Pittsburgh Sound" is the album's standpoint because of its benevolent, vibrant energy. Over some boom-bap elasticity that sounds like Q-Tip remixed "Electric Relation," Wiz raps with a kind of energy that makes you wonder where exactly it all went. There's nothing wrong with how he raps now; it's like the situation with Playboi Carti's first video. The "Magnolia" rapper traded in an overtly lyrical aesthetic for something more simplistic and contemporary. I guess, in both cases, the artists went with what was more popular and easily repeatable than one that demanded more attention for unpredictable results.
5 | O.N.I.F.C.
2012 was a year practically stuffed with seismic rap releases. 2 Chainz's haughty Based on a T.R.U. Story and Kendrick Lamar's orgasmic good kid, m.A.A.d. city were two of the year's more prominent releases, but everyone from Meek Mill to Rick Ross dropped hefty projects that established the dominance that has led to them being some of the most in-demand iconoclasts in the game. Somewhere in between all of those, Wiz released O.N.I.F.C. with all of the bells and whistles that come with mainstream success — for worse.
The lead single "Work Hard, Play Hard" was an omen, if any, that this iteration of Wiz would continue the somewhat depressing trend of an abundance of tantalizing crooning instead of guttural rap shouts. He'd become delusional in his pop star success with "Black and Yellow"; now evident in the album's outlandish cover, Wiz was in full diva mode. Sure, there were ethereal, smooth cuts like "Paperbond" that captured the deep blues of the waterfall, but the sheer arrogance of "No Limit," nearly 10 minutes of ambience punctuated by a half-interested verse or two, practically erases any built good will. Ultimately, the album's creativity, for the sake of carelessness instead of the pursuit of innovation, is its Achilles Heel.
4 | Deal or No Deal
Wiz's second studio album was like night and day compared to the first. He'd grown a little more comfortable with his artistry and created cohesive songs that sounded effortless in composition. "This Plane" was the lead single, and the best case for his improved storytelling and flow. He grew more comfortable with his voice as well, actually singing hooks to the point that he felt comfortable with only three features on it. He even touches on some of the more personal aspects of his life, something we typically don't get out of him.
It's perhaps this project that should be the standard commercial introduction to Wiz. Deal or No Deal served as the crossroads where gangster, conscious, and smoker Wiz met. The three variations merged into one and further refined his commercial aesthetic before following this template for the length of his career. While it isn't all that memorable, and suffers from middle-child syndrome, it's still an admirable step in his career that is largely responsible for the comfortable musician that we have today.
3 | Blacc Hollywood
In August of 2014, Wiz Khalifa had the utmost confidence in his then-upcoming album Blacc Hollywood; he told USA TODAY that it would be his best album so far. You can hear the commitment to being groundbreaking on it, from the brilliantly bombastic "We Dem Boyz" to the effortlessly urbane "Hope" with current R&B superman Ty Dolla $ign. It had been two long years since O.N.I.F.C. eviscerated his rep in serious rap circles; Blacc Hollywood was built from the ground up to recapture it by way of hard, racy rap with just a little pop sprinkles on top.
But, if its spot on this list is any indication, it wasn't his best album released, although it was a pretty good one. Even at 13 tracks, it felt a little long-winded, especially given the fact that 97% of the content revolves around creative ways to puff marijuana. We don't necessarily learn anything about Wiz that we didn't already know, so there's that as well. Wiz, on a surface level, is consumable on radio and in compilation projects. But Blacc Hollywood shows that projects, no matter the length, expose his lack of content. To get through them, you have to be invested in his character alone, more so than the music.
2 | Rolling Papers
Rolling Papers has the distinction of being Wiz's first album under a major label. That immediate financial increase can be felt in "Black and Yellow" where Wiz trades in the grittiness for glamour. Without trying, he ended up making one of the most recognizable, and most widely utilized, rap songs in recent history. Production on the project was much more expensive, lush, and elastic — Adele could have hopped on "Fly Solo" or "Cameras" and extrapolated a chart-topping hit.
Yet Wiz created an album that withstands the test of time. His playfulness and juvenile wonder shine through the album and paint a picture of a man determined to build a playground for weed smokers of the future. His willingness to go without an enormous number of features enabled the world to get a glimpse of who he is, even if he didn't clue us in too much of his backstory. In small doses, Rolling Papers is everything that Wiz represents — freedom, easygoing and, of course, cool.
1 | Rolling Papers 2
Sequels often have it harder than the originals, across any medium. No matter how good the first one is, the sequel has to be better. So, the creator has to figure out the pros and cons of the first and make sure that the next go around, the second improves on everything that made it faulty in the first place. When Wiz revealed his recently released album to be called Rolling Papers 2, he had his work cut out against him to make the project exceed the authenticity of the first which hit shelves in 2011. But Wiz wisely meets expectations and creates a gigantic album that exceeds not solely because of its enormous length.
What helps Wiz to continue to succeed is that he's really not looking to reinvent the wheel or drastically change his persona at this point. He's had his entire career for that. Now he's dillydallying in the playground that he built for himself over the last decade or so, connecting the dots to create magnanimous hits that lack corporeal concepts. He hits trap production, some smooth singing vocals, and flat-out raps. "Real Rich" is the kind of dark banger that exists solely out of boredom with contemporary sounds, with Wiz venturing back to his 28 Grams days for an arrogant outing starring Trap Maestro Gucci Mane. "Hopeless Romantic" wisely features Wiz playing featured artist on his own track while the endlessly charismatic Swae Lee handles the chorus and scene-stealing verse. Wiz is clearly just having fun at this point — and it works. Of course, there's a few clunkers with twenty-five tracks in the mix, but if I had to choose between this or Scorpion, I'd be singing "Taylor Gang!" at the top of my lungs, all day.
More by Trey Alston: