Pittsburgh rapper Wiz Khalifa graduated to superstar status with his breakout 2011 album, Rolling Papers. That album and its ubiquitous single "Black & Yellow" took Wiz from mixtapes to the mainstream, and the tattoo-covered stoner MC found himself on magazine covers, on year-end Top Ten lists, and even starring alongside Snoop Dogg in a pretty forgettable hip-hop buddy comedy flick. Though technically his fourth studio album, the kind of overnight success that Rolling Papers experienced sets O.N.I.F.C. up for the dreaded sophomore slump, a disappointing second album rushed out on the heels of a brilliant debut. Khalifa doesn't turn in a dud here, but comes dangerously close. Within the first few minutes, several things are made forcefully clear: Wiz likes to smoke weed, he has more money now than he knows what to do with, and he's fairly confident that his make-it-look-easy pop-rap style has pretty much changed the game for good. A host of top-dollar producers, MCs, and vocalists are on board to back him up, too, with on-point production from ID Labs, Chris "Drumma Boy" Gholson, and Pharrell and guest spots by everyone from 2 Chainz to Three 6 Mafia's Juicy J. Production team Stargate returns to cultivate the huge beat of leadoff single "Work Hard, Play Hard," a minimal banger that attempts to revisit the fire of "Black & Yellow" but runs out of steam about three-quarters through the song. More interesting beats come in the lovestruck stereo-panned snares and crystalline R&B hooks of "Got Everything" and the Dilla-esque staggered funk of "No Limit." Without any easily recognizable hits to focus on, 17 tracks of Khalifa's midtempo delivery, absentmindedly repetitive weed references, and wealth bragging wear thin right away. The majority of the album blurs amicably through mediocre party-rap sounds and actually gets more interesting as it nears its last few tracks. The watery beat of "Remember You" swims in a druggy haze with Khalifa throwing down delay-effected verses in between whimpering choruses by the Weeknd, and album closer "Medicated" sounds more engaged than the majority of the album. Still having a hard time reaching the anthemic heights of the singles from Rolling Papers, O.N.I.F.C. lands somewhere between the growing pains of an artist forced to develop more quickly than he's ready to and material simply less inspired than the hungrier, more excited sounds that came before.
by Fred Thomas