Though he’s still spouting easygoing rhymes about both kinds of green, musically Wiz is virtually unrecognizable from the Pittsburgh kid on the soulful Show And Prove. O.N.I.F.C. is full of gauzy, lethargic beats, with slowed-down G-funk riffs and bloops that seem to be coming from melted video game cartridges. When “Remember You” with The Weeknd first dropped it was assumed to be anomalous, but that track’s warped sheen is representative of the entire album. So while the lyrics underwhelm, in terms of creating a mood, O.N.I.F.C. is unequivocally a success.
Wiz and his I.D. Labs cohorts started moving in this hazy direction on his last album Rolling Papers, but even that record had outliers like the monolithic thump of “Black And Yellow” or the acoustic breeze of “Fly Solo.” This album is uniform, embracing hip-hop’s move into the domain of Illangelo, Zodiac and Jamie xx, doubling down on Drake‘s sparseness while adding spaciness for the sesh set.
As a result, O.N.I.F.C. is hypnotic, foreboding…and also familiar. The sort of trance-y, woozy beats heard on “The Bluff” or “Time” would’ve been game-changers two years ago, but now you can hear similar (and often superior) fare everywhere from “Swimming Pools (Drank)” to Das Racist (pour one out) to Kitty Pryde.
But there are some standout moments that move the trend forward. “Paperbond” opens the album with a goopy foundation interrupted by echoing squawks. “Fall Asleep” is simultaneously jittery and languid, combining emptiness with focused flickers of sound, like a hip-hop version of The xx.
These moments, and even the more derivative ones, combine to make a very pretty-sounding record, in a sterile, Kubrickian sense. But there’s nothing at stake, it’s mainly an empty vessel that fails to elicit any real emotion. You can only throw together so many stress-free rhymes over mid-tempo beats and slow-rolling synth washes before everything coagulates into a tepid ooze. (This manufactured fog is so thick that, save for The Weeknd and 2 Chainz, the guest spots here swirl about without ever breaking through.)
Emotional depth was never Wiz’s thing, and that’s fine — he’s the happy stoner. But even when he goes the superficial route (which is, well, always), compared to the likes of Watch The Throne or God Forgives, I Don’t, Wiz’s boasts here feel toothless and stale (e.g. “I got so much money I should start a bank”). There’s an argument to be made, though, that while hip-hop is moving to extremes — lyrically and musically — Wiz is forging a middle ground, leaving the navel-gazing or world-conquering or social-commenting to others.
There’s nothing wrong with the middle ground…there’s just nothing sexy about it (even when you enlist your baby mama Amber Rose to spit a few rhymes, as he does on “Rise Above”). It will never feel essential. But Wiz seems to be just fine planting his stake in the land of no stakes: he opened Rolling Papers with “They say all I rap about is bitches and champagne,” and proceeded to start O.N.I.F.C. with “Get the cork out the bottle.”
The Best Song Wasn’t The Single: “Fall Asleep” dares you to do just that, lulling you before releasing well-timed crackles of static.
Pops Like: “Swimming Pools
(Drank) (Dank)” without the sardonic bravura, mixed with some slinky future-R&B production.
Best Listened To: While/after utilizing a certain substance favored by Wiz. Dude knows his audience!
Full Disclosure: I’m from Pittsburgh, and the last time we had someone as big as Wiz, it was a collective of hippies singing “Send me on my way (on mah way),” so to say we’re pulling for him is an understatement.
Idolator Rating: 3.5/5
— Carl Williott