Flamboyance has rarely looked more uncomfortable than it does on the cover photo of Wiz Khalifa’s O.N.I.F.C., which drapes a snow-leopard fur around the bejeweled rapper and seats him in a too-small chair that, judging from his dreary expression and corked posture, might as well be covered in broken light bulb. Khalifa has been tabloid fodder since he became involved with professional photograph subject Amber Rose, and to believe his many boasts about foreign cars and first-class flights on O.N.I.F.C., he’s enjoying his lavish new lifestyle. Still, the strained look on his face in that cover shot seems like a tell. What if this isn’t really the life he wanted for himself?
It would take a far more interesting album than Khalifa’s latest to tackle that question. O.N.I.F.C. is not Take Care, and if there are any cracks in Khalifa’s façade, he’s not rapping about them. Nonetheless, earlier this year the rapper did admit to some career regret on his Tumblr, apologizing to fans in an open letter for the pop turn he took on 2011’s Rolling Papers, the major-label debut that traded the smoke-out vibe of his fan-base-building mixtapes for easy radio chants. “The mistake I made on Rolling Papers was thinking it was time to move on from that genre not knowing that it had impacted people so much,” he wrote. “The album did great numbers, but creatively wasn’t my best work.” In other words, he wants to be Curren$y, but the market dictates he be B.o.B.
And so on O.N.I.F.C. Khalifa splits the difference between his druggy muse and his pop obligations, without much interest in finding a middle ground. At an indulgent 73 minutes, it’s the most unhurried major rap album of the year, with one track stretching past the nine-minute mark. Yet whenever the disc falls into a pleasant groove, there’s always a cynical chart grab around the corner to snap the album back to the FM airwaves, be it a goofy Akon guest spot (“Let It Go”), a flossy Stargate beat (“Work Hard, Play Hard”), or a putrid sex jam (“Up In It”). Just about the only thing uniting this hodgepodge of weed mood pieces and manic attempted hits is Khalifa’s noncommittal rhymes. He remains a frustratingly disengaged rapper, with a thin sense of humor, an adversity to substance, and a disregard for detail. “I’m the shit, literally,” he brags on “Let It Go,” oblivious to how badly that quip begs for a second edit.