Happy Birthday Wiz Khalifa: Remembering the Rapper's Best Mixtapes
The legendary rapper turns 33 today.
Wiz Khalifa's albums have never been as good as his mixtapes.
On his earlier efforts, the Pittsburgh emcee's breezy attitude and malleable delivery made him a perfect poster child for weed rap. His bars were never steeped in metaphor or even necessarily clever, ("Groupies wanna leave the club wit' me/Ain't nothin' to a G'/Let your hair blow in the breeze/ Roll some bomb-a** weed,") but gliding instrumentals and a splash of melody made his discography the perfect soundtrack for an afternoon smoke sesh in the 2010s. Where his mixtapes thrived in their cruise-control chilled-out vibes, Wiz Khalifa's albums have always suffered from a strange stiffness he's never been able to escape.
The emcee's hotly-anticipated debut album Rolling Papers was rigid, uneven, and curated for frat parties more than wake and bake's. "When I'm Gone" found Khalifa trying to sing, and songs like "On My Level" sounded cumbersome, with Khalifa straining to sound like a club rapper over the track's gritty, instrumental, ("Gin got my drunk as f*ck stumbling out the bar/Plus I'm struggling tryna find the keys to my car/ 'Cause I be going hard.") Khalifa was suddenly an aspiring mainstream act, a potential pop-rap sell-out and the effort was panned by his loyal fans and even the emcee himself at one point.
The fluctuation between "Mixtape Wiz" and "Album Wiz" has remained apparent for the entirety of Cameron Jabril Thomaz's career, but the emcee is a Hip-Hop legend, despite his cool factor perhaps waning in the process. While film soundtrack singles have become his forte, it's worth reflecting back on the iconic mixtapes that at this point are ripe with nostalgia for any 20 something who smoked weed back in the 2010s. In honor of the emcee's 33rd birthday, here are his best mixtapes.
Meant as an apology for the commercial stain that was Rolling Papers, 2012's Taylor Allderdice served as a return to form for the emcee. Sporting another batch of muggy instrumentals, Khalifa demonstrated that he still had plenty of ways to rap about his favorite plant, ("Still rollin' weed on my XXL, only difference is that's me on the cover.") Taylor Allderdice wasn't as cohesive as some of Khalifa's past efforts, but it offered a refreshing amount of versatility that felt true to Khalifa himself.
"My Favorite Song" was bodacious enough for Juicy J without trying to sound like a Juicy J song, and "Number 16" was bouncy and lighthearted without straining into pop-rap. It's a well-groomed effort and is one of Khalifa's last remaining underground tapes to not be introduced to streaming.
Before he adopted a hazier persona, Khalifa was trying to be a success any way he could. Flight School was braggadocious and brash. Songs like "Ms. Rightfernow" and "Kleenex" were all hype and soaked in autotune, the latter merely being an ode to money ("Kleenex paper all I blow is money.") While the motif of Flight School wouldn't last much longer, the project was infectious and fun thanks to Khalifa's relentless charisma as a rapper. "Sky High" is so vivacious and optimistic, it's almost too silly to be real, and the horns and ad libs on "Teach You To Fly" are just so ludicrous one can't help but laugh, ("Hey, don't trip, b*tch/ Matter fact I got something you can trip on/ Gonna need your expensive luggage for this one.")
Burn After Rolling
One of Khalifa's last mixtapes before mainstream fame, B.A.R. finds the emcee just letting loose. He raps over a handful of already established instrumentals, from Pink Floyd's "Keep Talking" to Empire Of The Sun's "Walking on a Dream" and does so carelessly. While fans and critics lamented Khalifa's absentmindedness, Burn After Rolling was one of the last purely fun projects the emcee ever did. It wasn't his magnum opus by any stretch, but songs like "The Thrill" remain a perfect beach day accompaniment.
The beauty of Cabin Fever was that it had the slick production of a mainstream effort but without any of Rolling Paper's stale commercialism. Sporting production from Lex Luger, Sonny Digital, and Drummer Boy, among other well placed features like Big Sean and Juicy J, Cabin Fever was what Rolling Papers should have been. "Phone Numbers - Remix" is a perfect blend of Khalifa styles old and new, with Trae Tha Truth's ghoulish growl not sounding the least bit out of place. Meanwhile, outings like "Cabin Fever" and "GangBang" played around with braggadocios club rap without being cheesy about it. It's perfect for those who want to see multiple shades of their favorite weed rapper.
Marketing himself as "Trap Wiz," 28 Grams was one of the artist's most divisive projects. The mixtape was soaked in autotune and featured nothing but relentless 808s, rolling snares, and clamoring synths. While many critics complimented Khalifa's bravery in experimenting with trap music, many fans disregarded the effort since it wasn't weed rap, and frankly, they shouldn't have. 28 Grams features a lot of dope songs. It is far from a perfect project, the project's relentless hype gets lethargic by its second half, but tracks like "James Bong" and "Aw Sh*t" actually vibe pretty well if you don't listen too closely to some lackluster bars.
Kush & Orange Juice
Khalifa's undisputed magnum opus, Kush & Orange Juice, is a hazy odyssey that reinvigorated weed rap in the mainstream. If you smoked weed around 2010, this was almost definitely your favorite album at the time. Khalifa's relatable charisma established him as a rapper you felt you could invite to your family BBQ, while his easy-going instrumentals and relentless good vibes make Kush & OJ a certified stoner classic.