Words by: Ernest Baker
Everybody was ready to count out Wiz Khalifa. You know how rap fans are. I feel like they've always had it wrong when it comes to Wiz's career. Pretty much all of the criticism that's been tossed his way for the past few years has been lazy, hiveminded bullshit. I like Kush & Orange Juice as much as the next person, but if you're holding on to some tired notion that it's the last collection of solid material that Wiz released, you’re mistaken.
The stuff that made a lot of people hate Wiz—the O.N.I.F.C. cover, wearing leggings, dying his hair—always came off like fly, unorthodox shit to me. I never thought he was falling off. Wiz was doing the type of shit you do when you're one of like 30 rap artists ever to have a No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100. He was doing the type of shit you do when you're a 26-year-old who makes $14 million in a year. He was doing what you do when you're not worried about some random idiot in a comments section who thinks you're weird.
Now, if you're not a fan of Wiz (or you haven't been for a while) and you're thinking, “I don't care how he dresses or how much money he makes, I just thought the music got wack,” I should say, “That's fair, and you're entitled to your opinion,” but no, I still think you're dumb.
The line of thought that allowed anyone to get away with saying Rolling Papers was a bad album baffles me and I’m still mad that Wiz even wrote that letter "apologizing" for it. It was an extremely tight, polished major label debut and it was great for it. I felt like nothing was sacrificed and that it was just an album of good music with a pop focus. Which is okay. Winning over the mainstream is an art in itself. Even when you look at that album without considering who it was marketed to, or whatever, had plenty of jams. The syncopated flow during the "I keep some bad women with me in the back sippin’ rosé with some hash twistin’" part on "On My Level." The relaxed yet precise delivery on "Hopes and Dreams." The sheer exultance on "Fly Away." I mean, the initial reaction to "Black and Yellow" had already let me know that you can’t rely on critics when it comes to Wiz. People forget, but everyone was shitting on that song when it first dropped, and then it became the biggest song in the world.
A similar reversal of opinion is starting to happen with Wiz's latest single, "We Dem Boyz," and good. It's an awesome record that deserves to be recognized, and the release of the music video has made a ton of people aware of this.
However, getting people to acknowledge the merit of this song has been an uphill battle. Even Wiz seems to know it:
If you dont think We Dem Boyz is a smash, you can fucc yourself
— We Dem Boyz (@wizkhalifa) April 14, 2014
Amongst fans of the record, there's a palpable effort by those who've been hip to the song for a while to distance themselves from the people who are just now getting into the song. In some ways, all that matters is that the song is great and people are starting to realize that en masse, and I think anyone who likes “We Dem Boyz” will be happy to see it succeed, but we'll always hold a bit of contempt towards the people who tried to front on it earlier on.
When people say, "It had to grow on me," you almost instinctively question their motives. Do they like it now because Drake and Rihanna are dancing to it? Do they like it now because everyone loves the video? That’s fine if either of those mediums exposed someone to the song, but had they been brave enough to form their own opinion and had some vision, they would've known this earlier. "We Dem Boyz" has been a heater since the first listen.
The reason so many were ready to give up on Wiz is because O.N.I.F.C. got a lot of people down about his future prospects. Even though I liked some of the songs on there, like "Rise Above" and "Up In It," I get the backlash, but there was a lot of exaggeration. O.N.I.F.C. was a decent album. No more. No less. It wasn't a smash, but it wasn't trash. It was underwhelming enough to be forgettable, but not enough to set anyone's career back.
Plus, the disappointing nature of O.N.I.F.C. was never much of a blow because Wiz was consistently holding his own elsewhere. Taylor Allderdice is one of the greatest mixtapes I've ever heard. Between “My Favorite Song,” “Guilty Conscience,” “California,” “The Cruise” and a few others, that tape is basically untouchable. That project more than made up for any shortcomings of the subsequent LP. Add to that a couple of years of fire guest appearances, like the time he pulled out that double-time flow on “U.O.E.N.O.”, and you have a run that hasn't really faltered at all. Wiz was just out here living, doing shit like this:
Regardless, there was an undeniable air of skepticism surrounding Wiz for the past couple of years. "We Dem Boyz" is erasing all of that, but I’m glad it happened. Most real artists go through a period where they're doing something that pisses people off. For Nas, it was Nastradamus. For Lou Reed, it was Metal Machine Music. I'm down for career abjections. They make an artist’s creative arc more interesting and they make said artist’s return to prominence more exciting. “We Dem Boyz” is great in the most objective sense, but add in the factors concerning the "ups and downs" of Wiz Khalifa's career and that pushes it into more provocative territory, which is why it’s the hottest song out right now.
The best part about the critical reception of “We Dem Boyz” is that it’s actually worthy of the exponential hype that it’s generating. At its core, "We Dem Boyz" is one of those songs that produces uncontrollable head nods and arm flails. Detail is on the beat showing out. The ad-libs are hilarious. There are so many little details that set it apart from everything else.
Snobs who think the song is bad from a lyrical perspective don’t know anything about music. Every song doesn’t have to be complicated and elaborate and every song shouldn’t be. There's an entirely different appeal to songs with a simple approach and it’s just as reputable. Some of the most important songs in history are explicitly straightforward. That’s how artists arrive at chants—from Black Sabbath’s "has he lost his mind, can he see or is he blind" to Kanye West’s "la la la la, wait ‘til I get my money right"—that turn choruses into movements and larger statements of expression. That’s what Wiz is doing when he’s yelling “hol’ up, we dem boyz."
“We Dem Boyz” is about feeling more than content and as it goes on to rule airwaves and nightclubs and cars with the windows down this summer, remember that. If you can’t relate to a line as real as "young nigga but I'm ready," the song wasn’t meant for you anyway. Like Wiz said, it's an anthem for this generation. That holds more weight than you think.