When we talk about the mixtape circuit, it seems like it’s full of advantages and benefits, but we shouldn’t forget some of the problems caused by this constant, frenetic activity of free releases outside of official channels. Most importantly, these street albums generate resentment among their paying brothers, basically because the creative freedom of the former allows them to make more daring, carefree recordings than albums put out by multinationals, which are always ruled over by commercial aspirations and very strict financial goals that put the squeeze on many artists. This is how we can understand the two faces of the rapper established in Pittsburgh Wiz Khalifa: on the one hand we have “Rolling Papers”, his third album, the first for Atlantic, and then we have his mixtapes, like this “Taylor Allderdice” that has just come out. Night and day.
It is understandable that with “Rolling Papers”, Khalifa would project a sound that is explicitly pop, with very melodic production, obvious singles, and sweet choruses; there was money in the balance and the need to satisfy the expectations of the multinational that had given him a juicy contract in 2010. But after the mixtapes that he had become known for, it was also fair and entirely justified for those of us who had expected a sound more similar to his personality to feel disappointed by it. So it is clear that the more experimental, austere, anticlimactic side of the rapper is reserved for his free releases, like this one, the magnificent “Taylor Allderdice”; in a sense, he seems to be trying to reconcile himself with the streets, making a declaration of intentions: the author of the hit “Black And Yellow” hasn’t lost his hunger and the desire to make serious, solid, reliable music.
On this mixtape Khalifa momentarily sets aside his commercial aspirations and gives total freedom to his team of producers–Cardo, Big Jerm and Dumont, with the occasional participation of Jake One, Lex Luger, and his usual collaborator I.D. Labs– to lead his discourse back around to more minimalist positions. It is the return to a dark weed-rap with fascinating sound condensation, spare in melodies, allergic to choruses that can be hummed, and friend to skeletal loops and slowed-down atmospheres. Smoke, smoke, and more smoke, but not in communion and wanting to celebrate, like in “Rolling Papers”, but rather secluded and introspective, smoking alone in the key of toxic funk and almost psychedelic soul, the musical description of a drop in blood pressure on the sofa after hours and hours of narcotic absorption.
And in this context of total freedom to record the songs that he feels like, the rapper also feels better able to give a more personal focus to his lyrics. The subject is the usual one, rhymes revolving around marihuana, its effects, paranoia, ups and downs, but there is also space for artistic and personal reflection. Khalifa reflects on his multinational experience, makes his creative conflicts public, and reviews his relationship with success in a mixtape that would have a hard time becoming a multinational album because of its expressive particularities and dense sound. So once again, we celebrate that some of the most interesting hip hop albums of the moment are only a click away. And with no need to feel guilty.
Mary 3X (Off Taylor Allderdice)