2012 saw life totally transform for Cameron Thomaz, aka Wiz Khalifa. A native of Pittsburg, his grapple hold on the underground rap scene not only cemented him a spot in the limelight on a national scale but globally as well. A cult hip-hop hero on the indie scene, Khalifa’s many mixtapes earned him all types of noteriety on the come up.
However his debut album Rolling Papers didn’t appear to live up to the hype, despite the multi-platinum selling single “Black & Yellow.” After taking some time out, recruiting a new crew in the form of the Taylor Gang, prepping to become a father, and filming a movie with Snoop Dogg, the trees and tattoos enthusiast returns with O.N.I.F.C..
An acronym for Only N—a In First Class, the album shows a shift in musical maturity as far as Khalifa’s overall project construction skills go. With a pick of better beats, a host of polished rhymes, and some established songwriting at times, the album feels like an actual album as opposed to a selection of individual records.
If you were able to judge a book by its cover then you’d be forgiven for thinking O.N.I.F.C. might be an ecletically artistic type of offering due to Wiz’s Jimi Hendrix-esque appearance. However, Khalifa’s ties to the street, mainstream experience and laidback delivery aids him in crafting a project that folks from all walks of life can appreciate in some shape or form.
Making a smart move by collaborting with XO crooner The Weeknd on album single “Remember You,” the smooth undertone compliments Khalifa’s stonerish lightweight vocals as well as The Weeknd’s artistically stylish whines. Produced by longtime Weeknd collaborator Illangelo, the echoing mid-tempo number plays host to a seductive list of sexual exploits. By far one of Khalifa’s finest moments, it’ll do well to help push the rest of the album.
Financial success in hip-hop comes with its own price. With money comes the ability to live in a better neighbourhood and own nicer things. The downside however comes when the rapper in question runs out of things to talk about. With that said they decide to head down the route where money and paperchashing is the only thing left to put on wax. Wiz succumbs to this too early on in his career, and O.N.I.F.C. features more than its fair share of rants about having more money than the banks. While cuts such as “Paperbound” and “Bluffin” hold it down production-wise, lyrically they hold as much weight as a piece of polystyrene.
The strongest part of the Pittsburg representer’s repetoire is when he plays with the occasional harmony here and there. Take for example the Nice Rec, will.i.am and I.D. Labs produced feel-good moment “No Limit.” In a lowertoned Drake type of manner, Khalifa’s vocals and lyrical rise to power combines in a way that not too many artists are able to duplicate. While not the greatest singer in the world, he sure knows how to make his voice work when he needs to.
Another track that hears him get his R&B on whilst keeping his rap credibility in tact is the atmospherically space-like “The Bluff.” Rhyming alongside Dipset boss Cam’ron, the track itself isn’t the most verbally inspiring offering on O.N.I.F.C. yet the way in which the beat, vocals and raps marry one another so easily you’re just left with a song that is simply pleasing to the ear. On a side note, it’s nice to see Killa Cam back on the comeback trail.
With a host of big names producer-wise lending their talents to the project – Drumma Boy, Stargate, Pharrell, Jim Jonsin, and Danja – it’s actually [Pittsburg] hometown heroes I.D. Labs that feature the most throughout the 17-track LP. A familiar name amongst Mac Miller fans, this time around Wiz gravitates more towards his Pittsburg bretheren. The best work to come out of this partnership proves to be the Juicy J assisted “The Plan.” While it may be another track about money, it’s also, as Juicy J states in the introduction when he says, “I’m getting high as fuck to this,” a great soundtrack for any fan of the kush.
As an entire project O.N.I.F.C. is worthy of a purchase simply because it’s instrumentally stimulating and firing on all cylinders beat-wise. Lyrically Wiz isn’t spitting anything new, but his delivery has improved greatly and his awareness of how to put a record together has progressed for the better. With some strong moments it’s evident that the Taylor Gang President is still a work in progress but judging from his work ethic he’ll get there.