It’s amazing how much an artist’s style can change over the course of five years in the hip-hop game. In September of 2006, Wiz Khalifa was an up-and-coming 19 year-old rapper who had just released “Show and Prove,” his first independent album. Fast forward to the present, where Wiz is signed to Atlantic Records and is coming off his debut studio album that reached number two on the US Billboard 200 chart. Longtime followers of the Pittsburgh native can see just how much his lyricism and overall style have changed over this five-year period, and perhaps this transformation is best summed up by the opening line from the opening track on “Rolling Papers:” “And they say all I rap about is bitches and champagne/ You would too if every night you seen the same thing.” While this may seem like fairly typical Wiz nowadays, it’s a far cry from “Show and Prove,” which sees a younger Wiz repping the streets of “Pistolvania” and trying to make it in the rap game. I’m personally a big fan of checking out an artist’s early work to learn more about his roots, and having never fully explored “Show and Prove,” I felt the need to give it a full listen.
I’ll admit, after briefly skimming through a couple of tracks at first, I had to double check the artist to make sure it was actually Wiz. Fans who have become accustomed to the laid-back, often party-friendly vibe of his recent releases will find that “Show and Prove” is nearly the complete opposite, with gangsta-rap influences and hardcore beats and lyrics. It’s refreshing to hear Wiz, who has mellowed out since 2006, spit with aggression and hunger on tracks such as “Stay In Ur Lane,” as he raps:
“And you talk about poppin’ ya heat
But when the beefs on them real OG’s will come and rock you to sleep
Coward, in my advice you should think twice
Before you cross the path of a real nigga livin’ street life
Who pull cards and reach for they heat right
N’ you’ll get smoked like the trees in the peace pipe
Man they put you in the dirt, yeah
You steady throwin’ up the set but you ain’t never put in work there
So all that talk about the game you bang
Just stay in your lane before a shot lay in ya frame”
With crisp drums and a driving guitar riff and piano loop, the beat is menacing enough to accompany Wiz’s three verses, and it makes for one of the better songs on the album. “I’m Gonna Ride” also has a fast-paced feel, with a rapid-fire hi-hat and a dominant trumpet sample, and Wiz’s impressive, sometimes tongue-twisting flow never falters throughout the song. Other songs such as “Bout Mine” and “Damn Thing” feature equally hard-hitting production, with the latter pitting a high-pitched whistle over a thumping bassline and sparse but heavy drums.
Things start to grow old, though, when it comes to “Gotta Be a Star (Remix),” which features unoriginal lyrics from guest emcees Juliano and S. Money over nothing more than an average gangsta-rap instrumental. And as I listened through the album, I couldn’t help but notice that, at times, Wiz’s lyrics grow repetitive and materialistic, with little mention of anything other than hustling, keeping it real, and picking up women. Given his young age at the time the album was released, one obviously can’t expect him to be fully grown as an emcee, but the truth remains that there are several songs that really don’t bring much to the table.
Fortunately, there are more than a few quality tracks to make for this. “Start The Conversation” pits Wiz’s silky smooth rhymes over a simple but effective piano loop and pounding, reverb-heavy kicks. “Burn Somethin'” has an uplifting and vibrant feel, complete with a flowing set of orchestral strings and a high-pitched vocal sample. And it’s hard not to be pumped up after hearing the upbeat horns on “Let ‘Em Know” or the driving electric guitar on “History in the Making/Never Too Late.” Arguably the catchiest, most feel-good song on the album, though, is “Pittsburgh Sound,” which features a laid-back drum loop and bassline and a sample from the 1977 track “Happy Song” by the Dynamic Superiors, as Wiz spits:
“Around these parts
I’m known as the youngest in charge
My shit bang out the trunk of your car
Its the city’s known rap spitta’
Semi blown clack niggas
Skin and bones but really known as that nigga
I’m known to chase the bucks
Grind to get my paper up
In the studio writin’ rhymes til’ the paper crunch
I’m not the type that you would call ’em a thug
But I’m a hustler it’s all in my blood
So if it’s all for the cheese then I’m in it
My screw’s kinda loose so I ease to the finish
I hop up in the coupe feel the breeze while I’m in it
Blowin’ smoke up out the roof from the trees that I’m spliffin'”
In the end, newer fans of Wiz Khalifa will probably have mixed feelings toward “Show and Prove,” given the more hardcore sound that Wiz brings to the table. Others, though, will find that Wiz arguably exhibits more pure lyricism on his first album than on any of his recent work, most notably “Rolling Papers.” Regardless, “Show and Prove” is worth a listen to see just how much Wiz’s style has changed over the past five years, and it remains an interesting time capsule for his career. If nothing else, at least give “Pittsburgh Sound” a chance, and you won’t be disappointed with the Wiz Khalifa of old.