Most people know Pittsburgh emcee Wiz Khalifa because of his great, 2008 synth-heavy single “Say Yeah.” The DXnext alum is fully aware of that appeal, because damn near every song on Deal Or No Deal feels like an attempt to somehow recapture the glory of said song: synth riffs dominate the mix (though none as catchy as the Alice Deejay sample from “Say Yeah!”) while lyrics focus almost exclusively on women, weed, and money, and a steady, if at times overly-simple beat anchors the proceedings. But unfortunately, no song on Khalifa’s second pre-release album captures the effervescent atmosphere of his best single, though some come remarkably close. In doing so, the mid-tempo groove that most of the songs are locked into makes the album drag for long stretches. It’s this lack of youthful energy, which was so abundant on “Say Yeah!”, that makes Deal Or No Deal less than satisfying, as when you listen to an album from a talented 22 year-old one of the last things you expect it to ever be is lethargic.
And it isn’t always. There are a handful of tracks that while not reaching Khalifa’s previous heights still remind the listener that this guy knows how to make a good club track. The rapper doesn’t have a ton to say, so it’s not surprising that he works best on the higher energy tracks where he lets his arrogance go unchecked and concerns himself only with making the best club friendly track he can. There are songs like “Moola And The Guap”, an lively posse cut oozes along nicely despite having a title that sounds like the name of a terrible morning-zoo radio show. Then there’s “Lose Control”, a track that essentially tries to squeeze every radio trend of the last 12 months into three verses, but it still works nonetheless, are proof that when Wiz can be extremely entertaining without always being a lyricist. Further proof of this is found on “Red Carpet”, the album’s only “for the ladies” track with any replay value because of its light production (whining synths, plinking piano lines, and soft-rock guitar) and because of Wiz’s laid back and goofy approach. It’s a far more endearing personality than the one he presents on the other slow jams on the records, the forgettable behind-the-scenes “Studio Lovin’” and “Right Here” which features painfully trite lyrics like “Are you my drug / I need you most / I’ll take you till I overdose.” That line is only matched by Curren$y’s advice, in the similarly themed “Friendly”, to a girl that she “not blow it like birthday candles.” Mid-tempo love songs are not Khalifa’s strong suit, and they should probably be avoided entirely in the future.
Happily things pickup at the end of the record with three of its best songs coming in the last four tracks. “Take Away” is one of the few slower cuts that actually leaves a lasting impression, Khalifa’s youthful ego matching the majestic stroll of the beat. “Young Boy Talk” is the one place on Deal Or No Deal where Wiz matches the heaviness and intensity of early street hit “Crazy Since the 80s.” The updated carnation wheezes along and Wiz matches it by sounding like he is rapping with real purpose. The only song that really approaches “Say Yeah!” is “This Plane”, Deal Or No Deal’s first single. Here that effortless energy is again present. The track is made using the same formula as all the rest but it’s lighter, airier and boasts the albums best hook by far. Wiz shines brightest because he chooses to just talk himself up in the simplest way possible, with clever lines like “So while you busy tryin’ to fit in I’m-a stand out / And view my life through this lens and see how it pans out.”
With the album ending on high note it’s easy to imagine Wiz getting his act together and making an album that’s good from start to finish. And if he does it will be easy to forgive the youthful missteps of this album. But until then, Khalifa will remain a talented young guy on the verge, one who doesn’t seem confident enough yet to ditch the cookie cutter slow jams and the mid-tempo, hook-less tracks that follow the formula but forget the little things (like humor, and liveliness and joy) and just let loose with what he does best: high energy club tracks and blustering street bangers.