Since the release of his mixtape in 2005, Wiz Khalifa has evolved from a rising Pittsburgh rapper to a pop icon. While his easygoing persona makes him come off like one of hip-hop's most casual rappers, his work ethic speaks otherwise, spanning from a ceaseless touring schedule to a steady stream of mixtapes and LPs that keep his loyal following of smokers and party kids in the clouds.
Blacc Hollywood, the follow-up to 2012's O.N.I.F.C., is the newest notch in his belt, but he isn't just punching the clock: the 13-song project, bedazzled with contributions from Nicki Minaj, Curren$y, Juicy J and more, is a surprisingly strong offering, rooted in simplicity and banking heavily on Khalifa's natural charisma. The bubbly stoner who listeners have come to love is more settled; Khalifa seems more certain about and comfortable with who and where he is than ever before. And where he is, is a new creative zenith.
Chalk it up, maybe, to his marriage to model Amber Rose or the birth of their first child, Sebastian Taylor Thomaz, in 2013, but Khalifa is growing up. His effortless experimentation, long a strength, is honed: The music sounds like something he stumbled upon, casually, luckily and without intense deliberation. The rhymes rarely falter, but it's his flow that has long been the draw, and on Blacc Hollywood, it's more viscous than ever. His stretched, auto-tuned vocals ride over moody production with a charming indifference on "Raw," a midtempo trap number for the club, and "The Sleaze," a synth-driven track extolling girls, greenery and nightlife. As hinted by singles "We Dem Boyz," "Stayin' Out All Night" and "Promises" -- his most blatant venture into pop territory yet -- there's a more concentrated effort on Khalifa's singing. But even when he's rapping, he's more concerned with melody than metaphor, intent on creating a hazy, hot-box atmosphere rather than flooring the listener with dexterous triple-entendres.
But what happens when the high wears off and everyone goes home? "House in the Hills" and "Still Down" not only find Khalifa at his lyrical best, but also give a deeper glimpse into a man who sometimes has been as hard to see through as the cloud of smoke that follows him. On "No Gain," he spits over the smacking drums: "At times I feel like I’m all by myself and I know you do, too... I just woke up, I don't get sleep, boy, my schedule's a mess." In these relatively vulnerable moments, you get the sense that there’s more to Khalifa than what's on the surface. There are telling confessions behind all the bravado and hedonism. It's as though his adventures in domesticity have deepened his scope. Khalifa loves a good time, but even the life of the party has to call it a night.
Check out a track-by-track review of Wiz Khalifa's Blacc Hollywood below.
"Hope" (feat. Ty Dolla $ign)
"Hope" kicks off Blacc Hollywood triumphantly. Wiz Khalifa's signature braggadocio takes center stage after a haunting guitar riff melts everything within its range.
"We Dem Boyz"
Khalifa reminds us why he's in his very own stratosphere. On "We Dem Boyz," he flexes his heavily auto-tuned vocals over the bouncy production to a stunning effect. His playful tone, quick raps and penchant for repetition are highlighted on the lead single.
"Promises" is a glorified rap ballad that borders on sentimental. Over a beat courtesy of Jim Jonsin, Khalifa practically begs atop some achingly soothing strings.
"KK" (feat. Project Pat & Juicy J)
"KK" provides the soundtrack for misfits and stoners; it's weed rap at its apex. With Project Pat and Juicy J on the assist, the trio of marijuana connoisseurs spit carefree raps about blowing "Khalifa Kush."
"House in the Hills" (feat. Curren$y)
"House in the Hills" is Khalifa's attempt at dropping knowledge. He schools us on the power of work ethic and the perils of being severely misunderstood. He's at his best lyrically, as he affords the listener a glimpse into his journey. The background vocals add a welcoming texture, making for a certified hit that's catchy and emotionally charged.
Curren$y's soulful tonality caps things off ("Never will I tumble, fall from grace/I'm one of them under-celebrated greats").
Things get drab and overwhelmingly banal as the album approaches the halfway mark. "Ass Drop" is everything you'd need in order to pack out a dance floor. However, cliches abound and it amounts to nothing particularly noteworthy.
A mid-tempo trap record for the streets, "Raw" is what we've come to desire from Wiz. The gritty track is open enough to where he attacks it however he chooses, speeding up and slowing it down.
"Stayin' Out All Night"
The Dr. Luke-produced song is a simple pop composition that may be Wiz Khalifa's most perfect yet. The reiteration, echoes, hook and refrain; all completely well-constructed from start to finish. His sensibility shines through and his charming indifference wins again.
Khalifa covers the layered, synth-driven beat like pure water. Girls, reefer and the nightlife -- sure, easy does it: "Just copped the newest thing, did it with ease."
"So High" (feat. Ghost Loft)
Arguably, "So High" features the freshest hook off the album. The drums thump hard and the melody soars to pristine levels. "High up and we're floating/ Don't know where we're going," he raps. Wiz's patterns are impressive, and the lyrics demonstrate his unique brand of simplicity.
"Still Down" (feat. Chevy Woods & Ty Dolla $ign)
The subject of loyalty will always have a place in hip-hop. This track is a head-nodder with a soulful chorus bridging together solid contributions from Chevy Woods and Ty Dolla $ign. It speaks of the value of keeping trust in one's circle. "Still Down" has the patriotic feel of an anthem.
Wiz spits over smacking drums and shuffling hi-hats: "At times I feel like I'm all by myself and I know you do too." "No Gain" is another confession masked in bravado. "I just woke up, I don't get sleep/ Boy, my schedule's a mess," he admits, with a flow strangely reminiscent of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony.
"True Colors" (feat. Nicki Minaj)
"True Colors" is a certifiable pop hit that showcases the versatility of both artists. Similar to "Still Down," the topic at hand is trust and the jealousy that inevitably follows success. All in all, it's a radio-ready jam that's safe and easily digestible.