Wiz Khalifa, “Rolling Papers 2” (Atlantic)
Anyone paying attention to Khalifa lately recognizes that the usually lanky Pittsburgh-born rapper has put meat on his bones. The same sort of muscle can be found, too, in the music he’s made since 2014’s “Blacc Hollywood.” There’s a density to the sound and a gravity to his lyrics in this, his newest mixtape/album, that simply didn’t exist on early singles such as “Black and Yellow,” from 2011’s first “Rolling Papers.”
A woozy production such as the ruminative “Ocean” finds the Wiz rhapsodizing about the ups and downs of the good life while stuck in a smoky hotel room. While lyrically allowing Khalifa a shot at Raymond Chandler-like noir imagery, the music is as filled with souped-up synths as Kanye’s classic “808 & Heartbreak.” “Mr. Williams/Where Is the Love” is a riveting rap battle and a creamy R&B duet in one thick burst of manic musical energy. The song “Rolling Papers 2” weirdly wells up with Wiz emotion as he raps, “I done seen people suffer, hate turned into love/Lost some people to get here, but they watching us from up above.”
Not every song is as dramatic or dire as those — several of his duets, such as his boastful Snoop Dogg pairing “Penthouse,” are meh — but this is the Wiz at a new peak and flying highest. And I don’t mean from the aftereffects of the weed.
A.D. Amorosi, Philadelphia Inquirer
Kenny Chesney, “Songs for the Saints” (Warner Bros. Nashville)
Chesney isn’t necessarily known for his depth. He has amassed 39 No. 1 country hits by charmingly championing the escapist lifestyle of “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problems.” But sometimes reality intrudes, as it did when Hurricane Irma crashed into the Caribbean last year, seriously damaging various islands, including the Virgin Islands that Chesney calls home.
“Songs for the Saints” is the album born from that disaster, a benefit for Chesney’s Love for Love City Foundation, which provides disaster relief for the U.S. and British Virgin Islands.
The title track is a love letter to the lifestyle on those islands and a tribute to the resilience of its people. It’s simple, and Chesney at times sounds uncharacteristically shaky. “Love for Love City” is more hopeful, a reggae-tinged anthem featuring Ziggy Marley that reminds St. John, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, that it will not be forgotten.
Chesney finds inspiration in songs from others, including Jimmy Buffett, who guests on Chesney’s tender version of Buffett’s “Trying to Reason With Hurricane Season.” He plays up the island undertones of Lord Huron’s dreamy, but defiant “Ends of the Earth.” And he drafts Mindy Smith for gorgeous harmonies on the forward-looking acoustic beauty “Better Boat.”
Chesney’s artistic stretch may not give him hits, though the unifying single “Get Along” seems destined for No. 1, and “We’re All Here” is built for his stadium shows. However, “Songs for the Saints” is about so much more than that, a way for Chesney to work his way through the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.
GLENN GAMBOA, Newsday
• Nicki Minaj, “Queen”
• Jason Mraz, “Know”
• Jake Shears, “Jake Shears”