Ben Franklin had his lightning bolt. Newton had his apple. For Wiz Khalifa, the aha! moment must have come when he realized the words “green,” “blow,” “rollin’ ” and “paper” all applied to both marijuana and money. “Some say it’s a problem/Blowin’ my greens/Not savin’ my collards,” he raps on his hotly anticipated major-label debut. (Spoiler alert: He doesn’t agree that it’s a problem.)
On Rolling Papers, Khalifa, the 23-year-old Pittsburgh rhymer responsible for the jersey-waving hit “Black and Yellow,” manages to give life to those kinds of cash-gorged perma-baked clichés by warmly luxuriating in the space between pop’s fresh-faced exuberance and hip-hop’s easy arrogance – between skater and playa, Bieber and Biggie. This is a guy who can effortlessly segue from the ominous G-funk whir of “On My Level” to the adorably crushed-out R&B crooning of “Roll Up.”
Khalifa doesn’t record with big-name hip-hop cameos (unless Too Short and Curren$y count as big names). Stargate (the Norwegian hitmakers behind “Black and Yellow”) and Pittsburgh homey E Dan give tracks like “Wake Up” and “Star of the Show” a warm, lush synth-gauze that lends lines such as “Got money, minor league turn major/Got money, white people turn neighbors” a surreal joyousness. Which is exactly the point: Khalifa hustled for years to get his big break, suffering record-label indignities, releasing mixtapes and using Twitter to build a following. When he raps, “I don’t wanna wake up,” on “Wake Up,” you can’t help but hope his dream lasts a while.
Listen to “On My Level (featuring Too Short)”: