Wiz Khalifa shares the remix to his huge hit single “Black and Yellow” with his spiritual elderSnoop Dogg, and also Juicy J, of the foundational Memphis rap group Three 6 Mafia. On another of Wiz Khalifa’s singles, “On My Level,” the straight-talking Oakland foulmouth Too Short is his guest.
What do these collaborators have in common? They’re all at least 10 years Wiz Khalifa’s senior. This 23-year-old rapper has the taste of someone who’s been around far longer.
But it’s more than that. On Tuesday Wiz Khalifa released his first major-label album, “Rolling Papers” (Rostrum/Atlantic), and celebrated with a concert at Roseland Ballroom. But for all the youthful exuberance on display during that show, his album is relaxed and unforced and oddly unambitious. It doesn’t sound eager and curious like someone’s first crack at the big time, but rather like the work of someone comfortable with his well-honed style and feeling no need to innovate. It has the sound of a rapper who’s on his fifth or eighth album.
Which, in a way, Wiz Khalifa is. He’s released two albums independently, the first in 2006, and he’s released several mixtapes since then, many of them album quality. Maybe it’s confidence, maybe it’s precision, maybe it’s lethargy, but he’s been admirably consistent. He’s an old-fashioned, uncomplicated type of rapper, impervious to the technical advances of the last 15 years. Wiz Khalifa soothes.
“Rolling Papers” is more single-minded and less nimble than his recent mixtapes. It’s full of starchy but unmemorable lyrics, streams of soft boasts with barely a metaphor in sight. At times, especially on the album’s brighter, more pop-leaning songs like “Fly Solo,” it’s not clear if Wiz Khalifa is a more interesting rapper than, say, Jason Mraz.
In places his casualness is indelible, like on the Pittsburgh anthem “Black and Yellow,” which eventually became a No. 1 pop hit in sync with the Pittsburgh Steelers’ run to Super Bowl XLV, and on songs like “Rooftops” and “The Race.” But it’s just as often numbing. “Wake Up” and “Top Floor” weigh down this album and, arriving near the end of the concert, they felt molasses-thick and suffocating.
The album’s sound is conspicuously regionless: the snoozy low end of the West Coast, the reassuring thump of the East Coast, the quirky effects and tweaks of the South. It’s designed to alienate no one.
That good will extends to the subject matter, which is less marijuana minded than his mixtapes, though not by much. He’s so known for his predilection that other rappers are taking note. “My Chevy sitting too high/I call that Wiz Khalifa,” Ace Hood raps on his current hit “Hustle Hard (remix),” which Wiz Khalifa’s D.J. played teasingly before Tuesday’s show.
“It’s bigger than just weed, it’s bigger than just fly” things, Wiz Khalifa insisted during the show, which included several songs from last year’s impressive mixtape “Kush & Orange Juice” and maybe too many from “Rolling Papers,” the worst of which were impossibly diffuse for a space as large as Roseland.
It might be the case that he has more to offer, but it needn’t be. His syllables land calmly and purposefully, if slowly. There’s such an ease about Wiz Khalifa that his jolts of eccentricity and ambition — that dash of bleached hair at the front of his short afro, say — feel overwrought. And he’s goofy too, unafraid to dance while rapping or in between verses, his skinny body bending at odd angles. He’s young enough not to know better, or old enough not to care.
Similarly, he didn’t mind showing emotion. Midway through the show he appeared to be wiping away tears with a towel while talking about the friends and family members of his crew, Taylor Gang, who died without getting to see him finally succeed.
Chevy Woods, a Taylor Gang affiliate, was one of just two guests Wiz Khalifa brought out during this concert. The other was the morbid and long underappreciated Houston rapper Trae, who came out to perform during the first song of the night, “Phone Numbers,” and spent the rest of the show impassively standing sentry by the D.J. table, another old hand for Wiz Khalifa to shake.