Atlantic Records
Atlantic Records

Since captivating the rap world with his marijuana-induced exploits on his landmark Kush & Orange Juice mixtape, Wiz Khalifa has blossomed into one of the culture's most bankable and recognizable stars. Crossing over to the major label system through a partnership with Atlantic Records in 2010, Khalifa has spent the better part of the decade creating anthems of triumph and delivering standout guest appearances to the tune of millions of records sold and a string of gold and platinum plaques. However, tapping into the zone that enabled him to create classic mixtapes like How Fly, Cabin Fever, Taylor Allderdice and his Kush-inspired magnum opus has proved to be challenging at times for the Taylor Gang general, resulting in mixed reviews and long-time fans pining for the Khalifa of old. Well aware of his disciples' hunger for nostalgia, Wiz Khalifa gives the fans what they want with Rolling Papers 2, the sequel to his 2011 debut album that finds him attempting to conflate his sustained commercial success with a return to his musical roots.

His first studio album since 2014's Blacc Hollywood, Rolling Papers 2 shows no signs of rust on Khalifa's part. He quickly gets into the groove of things on "Hot Now," a boastful cut produced by Bobby Raps and TM88 on which the Pittsburgh native basks in the trappings of his rockstar lifestyle. "Surprise 'cause I visualized it/Always knew I was the man, you just realized it," Khalifa raps, scoffing at naysayers before proclaiming, "You can't tell me shit, tell me nothin'/Anything I want, I pull up in." It's a brash opener that sets the tone from the start.

Continuing the early winning-streak with "Ocean," Wiz Khalifa channels his mixtape form in grand fashion, providing vivid imagery of smoked-out hotel rendevouz over a hazy backdrop by longtime collaborator and producer Sledgren. Pulling the listener into a hypnotic lull with 808 drums and synths, Sledgren cooks up a track that brings to mind past classics like "Waken Baken," providing further proof of Khalifa's renewed hunger.

"Blue Hunnids" provides a change of pace, pairing Wiz Khalifa with fellow Pittsburgh reps Hardo and Jimmy Wopo, the latter of whom makes his first posthumous appearance following his murder in June. Produced by Sledgren, the track balances Wopo's intense energy and Hardo's menacing presence with Wiz Khalifa's slick musings for a lively offering that stands as collaborative highlight among Rolling Papers 2's laundry list of features. Vocalist THEMXXNLIGHT and longtime partner-in-rhyme Curren$y appear on "Mr. Williams/Where is the Love," a two-part track produced by TM88 and Sledgren that finds the two rhymers turning in cocksure stanzas amid THEMXXNLIGHT's airing crooning. Khalifa anchors the track with a vicious rhyme spill.

Wiz Khalifa's mentor Snoop Dogg makes his presence felt on "Penthouse," however, the dynamic stoners' pedestrian performances and producer NSFR's lackluster contribution renders it an uninspired effort. Fortunately, Wiz atones for that lowlight with "Real Rich," a Tay Keith-produced tag team with Gucci Mane, who adds to his list of show-stealing guest verses, dropping witty couplets like, "Solitaires glarin', big stone like Sharon/Superstar, Ed Sheeran, bitches love my earrings," while Wiz Khalifa provides a quote-worthy stanza of his own.

One knock throughout Wiz Khalifa's career has been his lack of range in terms of subject matter and his reliance on predictable tropes revolving around weed, women and money. While those vices are certainly present throughout Rolling Papers 2, the Taylor Gang general makes significant strides in his transparency, providing a dose of introspect while offering fans a glimpse into the man behind tthe music, particularly on the album's E. Dan and Frank Dukes-produced title track. Giving insight to the loved ones lost and the sacrifices made along his journey, Wiz Khalifa lets his pain bleed onto the page, rapping, "I done seen people suffer, hate turned into love/Lost some people to get here, but they watching us from up above."

While Wiz Khalifa is more than comfortable in a collaborative setting, Rolling Papers 2's most indelible moments come when he's the sole master of the ceremony, as is the case on the Sledgren-produced "Bootsy Bellows," a potent deep cut that ranks among the most regal on the album. "Got too much talent just to be sittin' around with/Weed and alcohol, that's the balance/Ridin' in the Benz with low mileage," Wiz muses over measured percussion, guitar licks and other wrinkles, bringing the first-half of his latest offering to a crescendo with an impressive performance that speaks to his lyrical rejuvenation.

Moments of vulnerability and yearning are also present throughout Rolling Papers 2. Wiz joins forces with Rae Sremmurd star Swae Lee on the hypnotic single "Hopeless Romantic," while he flies solo on the ID Labs-produced heater "Late Night Messages," a drowsy cut that finds him flexing his skills as a crooner. Yet while the first portion of Rolling Papers 2 is filled with multiple instances of greatness on Wiz Khalifa's part, the project begins to lose steam during the  album's latter, as the sheer quantity of tracks begins to impact the overall quality. While highlights like the Darrius Willric-assisted "Never Hesitate" and "420 Freestyle" are gems in their own right, forgettable tracks like "Fr Fr" and "Gin and Drugs" leave much to be desired.

However, Wiz Khalifa manages to steady the ship towards the end of the album, most noticeably with "B Ok," a track that finds the rapper baring his soul while touching on the pressures of fame, his failed relationship with Amber Rose and the death of his sister over a somber, piano-driven composition. Proclaiming, "As long as I got my family and my niggas, everything'll be ok," Wiz Khalifa displays the resilient attitude that's carried him from being a virtual unknown to music industry superstardom over the past decade. After dialing up TheMXXNLIGHT for a pair of collaborations ("All of a Sudden" and "Homework"), Wiz Khalifa closes out Rolling Papers 2 on an upbeat note with a string of tracks for the ladies, the last being the Ty Dolla $ign-assisted salvo "Something New," an infectious, summer-ready groove.

At a hefty 25 songs, Rolling Papers 2 is an ambitious effort that works in large pockets, but ultimately comes across as uneven due to the sheer amount of filler. "Going Hard," "Rain," "King" and "Reach For The Stars" are among the songs that negatively impact the flow of the album and its cohesion, taking away from its overall replay value. However, in comparison to past album releases by Wiz Khalifa, which were built around his singles and largely lacked the character and heart that defined his earlier material, Rolling Papers 2 captures the magic of his iconic mixtape fare while catering to his crossover audience as well as any major label album he's released thus far.

Rolling Papers 2 may not eclipse Wiz's most acclaimed work, but it is an admirable effort that shows growth in a creative evolution that gives hope that his best could still be ahead of him.

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