If his mega-hit "Black and Yellow" hadn't become the Pittsburgh Steelers' unofficial anthem, you'd be forgiven for thinking Wiz Khalifa's from Los Angeles. His gentle voice, hazy demeanor and weed-obsessed braggadocio evoke Snoop Dogg at his most laid-back—in fact Khalifa's major label debut dropped the same day as tha Doggfather's latest and outsold it four-to-one. His taste in production always tended towards G-funk, and he's put Atlantic's budget to good use here. Almost every track emerges from thick layers of rumbling bass, with snares, synths, vocal and guitar samples piercing through the aural equivalent of pot smoke. The production is ethereal yet sharp throughout, an improvement on his hugely popular but musically iffy mixtapes and indie albums.
The most disappointing things about Rolling Papers are Khalifa's unchanging flow and deliberately artless rhymes. These work well enough on the album's best tracks, like "Wake Up," where he sleepily raps quips like, "got money minor league turned major/got money white people turned neighbors," over broad retro electronic pulses. Upbeat tracks like "No Sleep" and "Fly Solo" stir the MC from his somnambular mode, but otherwise he's content gliding through verses in breezy sing-song. This places added emphasis on hooks, which are generally strong and make for a perfectly pleasant record for distracted listening. Khalifa's forays into outright singing—like on the summery romance "Roll Up"—intermittently remind of another Angeleno, the recently deceased gangsta crooner Nate Dogg. For the most part, though, the young rap star remains highly subdued and lets the lush production do the legwork.