Release Date: Dec 4, 2012
Record label: Atlantic
Rampant stonerism is fine, assuming you don't get so zonked that you put out records like Rolling Papers, Wiz Khalifa's sluggish 2011 debut. The rapper apologized in an open letter to his fans, and atoned earlier this year with a slippery mixtape; now Khalifa repents in full with an album as solid as Rolling Papers was slack. Wiz's subject matter is pretty standard: waking, baking and, between massive bong hits, babymaking with his model-fiancee Amber Rose.
Having elbowed his way into the Hot 100 VIP room — and a million Steelers fans’ hearts — with 2010’s inescapable ”Black and Yellow,” the pride of Pittsburgh largely backs away from easy access on his second album. Though O.N.I.F.C. scrimps on pop hooks, Wiz’s bleary-eyed charisma elevates both radio bait (”Got Everything”) and trippy shape-shifters (”No Limit”).
Success at the register as it may have been, Rolling Papers feels even more out of place in Wiz Khalifa’s ever-expansive discography after just one year than it did when it was new. Khalifa has always been a good if not great hook man, dating back to at least 2007, but Rolling Papers wagered that handling his debut with experienced pop/R&B producers would be able to emphasize this. It simplified the Wiz even beyond his already limited palate of subjects, and made for a total air bubble of a listen.
The ’00s saw an interesting trend in R&B music. The genre swerved into the Pop music lane, and one of the best results of that shift was Ne-Yo’s rise as one of the genres premier songwriters. Since R. Kelly, there wasn’t anyone like him jumping from one popular R&B artist to other more popular R&B artists.
It was the Greeks that said musicians make music, not "just" men. Wiz Khalifa argues on O.N.I.F.C. that he's both. Although Khalifa dropped two albums through Rostrum in 2006 and 2009, respectively, his signing to Atlantic in 2010 thrust him into the mass market, after which Kanye West proclaimed him "the only label rapper he respects." Now, three years later, Khalifa can only be considered through the lens of popular culture, where kush, Bombay gin and half-baked quotables are the new trend.
Pittsburgh rapper Wiz Khalifa graduated to superstar status with his breakout 2011 album, Rolling Papers. That album and its ubiquitous single "Black & Yellow" took Wiz from mixtapes to the mainstream, and the tattoo-covered stoner MC found himself on magazine covers, on year-end Top Ten lists, and even starring alongside Snoop Dogg in a pretty forgettable hip-hop buddy comedy flick. Though technically his fourth studio album, the kind of overnight success that Rolling Papers experienced sets O.N.I.F.C.
Wiz Khalifa smokes weed by the acre, but his career thus far has been driven by his own shrewd vision for himself. He is not a rapper's rapper, but he helped push rap into its current fixation with doing drugs instead of selling them and has rightfully reaped the rewards of an entire genre following his lead. He also became a pop star with ease in 2010, sliding into the studio with pop titans like Stargate and Benny Blanco and emerging with a No.
“I got so much swag, the airport don’t even wanna touch my bag”, raps Wiz Khalifa on ‘Fall Asleep’, offering up some help to any would-be terrorists devoid of the necessary levels of bravado to sail through customs unbothered. ‘O.N.I.F.C’ (which stands for ‘Only Nigga In First Class’) is 25-year-old rapper Khalifa’s second album proper and sadly offers little else besides this airline advice. Instead we get a collection of sloppy rhymes and low-IQ beats, as ever accentuated with Wiz’s stoned giggle and the hacking sound of his smoker’s cough.
When musicians strike it rich, and thereby distance themselves from the concerns of 99% of their listeners, some view it as an artistic problem. Not Wiz Khalifa. "Mo' money, mo' Roberto Cavalli," is the Pittsburgh rapper's response on his fourth album, following up the break-out success of 2011's Rollin' Papers. You could pardon his glee if ONIFC represented a great artistic leap forward for the 25-year-old, but it doesn't – success seems to have dulled his considerable rapping talent.
One of hip-hop's natural supporting acts, whose breakthrough hit was a good-natured chant-along homage to his beloved Pittsburgh Steelers football team, Wiz Khalifa has always made for an unlikely crossover star – and an even less convincing bohemian eccentric, the image he has run with since becoming affianced to model Amber Rose. (On the cover of his second album, the flamboyance of his snow-leopard coat is matched only by the awkwardness of his expression. ) Neither is it borne out in his music: Wiz Khalifa is a serviceable but limited type, mostly concerned with getting stoned, capable of adequately riding a catchy hook (Work Hard, Play Hard) or interesting beat (the keening bird cries of Paperbond, the creepy-lullaby loop of Fall Asleep).
Even among hip-hop artists, Wiz Khalifa is notably dedicated to the ganja, naming his last album Rolling Papers and bragging on his latest, O.N.I.F.C., that “I smoke so much dope/I got O.G. in my I.V.” If a smokable résumé is all it takes to qualify as O.G. these days, Khalifa still has to compete with Kid Cudi. For now, he seems secure enough with his status: The acronymic title of his new album stands for Only Nigga in First Class.
In 2010, Wiz Khalifa dropped his Kush & Orange Juice mixtape, 20 tracks of breezy near-cloud-rap that meshed perfectly with the then-22-year-old’s zero-expletives-given persona. In 2011, he made his major-label debut with the pop-hop sparkle and chart-mounting singles of Rolling Papers. Here, Wiz jumps from style to style indiscriminately, going for atmosphere that would have fit in just fine on the former project (“Paperbond”, “Bluffin’”) and radio-bait more appropriate for the latter (“Let It Go”, “Work Hard, Play Hard”).
Big Boi starts his second solo album, “Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors” (Def Jam), reminding listeners that he’s “one-half of the mind of Outkast,” the hip-hop duo (with André 3000) from Atlanta that released its last album, “Idlewild,” in 2006. Memories probably aren’t that short. And once Big Boi’s solo career got moving — his 2010 album, “Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty,” was delayed by record-company conflicts — it was clear that he was keeping what made Outkast so memorable: fast-talking rhymes alongside full-fledged tunes that might draw on funk, new wave, club beats or hip-hop.
Back in February, Wiz Khalifa admitted that there were some mistakes on Rolling Papers in the open letter to his fans. The Pittsburgh native wrote that he would return to the laidback vibe found on Kush & Orange Juice and the more recent Taylor Allderdice. Going from pop rap back to the old Wiz—the melodic hooks, rhymes about weed and money—is expected on his latest effort, O.N.I.F.C.
Wiz Khalifa follows his simplistic but big-selling “Rolling Papers” with a labored CD solely concerned with flaunting his success. He’s less dexterous and creative on this interminable 17-song, 73-minute disc as he indulges in all of rap’s worst impulses. Not only are the tracks lacking lyrical crispness and wit, but they also are short on hooks or vivid musical flourishes.