Going into Taylor Allderdice, Wiz Khalifa had a lot on his mind. His career was on a path we’ve seen time and time again in the past two years. It’s hard to name any new stars that haven’t followed this path:

– Artist gets popular on internet
– Artist builds loyal fan base
– Artist can’t be talked about without using the word “buzz,” artist gets cosigned by more famous artists
– Artist signs deal, everyone gets excited
– Artist puts out less exciting, watered down version of their music for debut album

It’s hard to avoid this. Major labels seek mass appeal, mass appeal means hit records, and look at the fucking charts—if your song doesn’t have a big hook on it, forget it, get a real job. Rolling Papers might have been watered down, but it went gold. Wiz admitted his “mistake” (his business decision) on his major label debut:

“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. The album did great numbers, but creatively wasn’t my best work. No regrets though. We live and we learn. So for my fans sake and own personal enjoyment,  Ive gone further into the world we’ve created and elaborated on our genre with the mixtape Taylor Allderdice and of course my sophomore album ONIFC. Im so confident in the artistry and creativity of these projects because so much living went along with them. These aren’t songs aimed to be hits or widely accepted or even understood. It’s for people who live like us and can relate. And informative to those who can’t. Either way we’re inviting mu fuggas deep into our world and I can’t wait.”

Wiz is right. Rolling Papers was not—creatively speaking—his best work. But is Taylor Allderdice the creative breakthrough that he made it sound like in his letter to fans? No, it’s not.

The Taylor Gang pack leader who inspires kids to make shirts that say things like “Taylor Gang Or Eat A Dick” has had his ego nurtured very well over the past few years. Not only does he have one of the most dedicated fan bases around, but he’s also made a little more money, accumulated a little more fame, and got himself engaged to a model. It’s not that he ever had a problem with self-doubting, but it’s clear, through both his music and his fashion choices, that Wiz’ confidence is at an all time high.

It’s not a bad thing. While some guys turn into cocky assholes, Wiz remains a likable guy. He’s got a charm about him, and his laugh still sounds genuine. It sounds stupid, but that’s a telling sign, especially in rappers. There’s the calculated boss laugh, the zany mad scientist laugh, the trying-too-hard-to-sound-cool laugh—it’s funny because you probably know who I’m talking about from these descriptions. Fame and money hasn’t extinguished Wiz’ charm; it hasn’t ruined his laugh, but it has changed his reality.

In Wiz’ letter to fans, he makes it sound like his new work is a window into his special world, some wild picture he’s painting that’s never been seen before. We get it Wiz, you smoke a lot of weed, you’re going to marry a model, and you’re making a lot of money. It’s fun, it’s cool, we’d like to hear more, possibly about your jewels and the fabric your clothes are made from. But don’t pretend that this is something special, because we’ve heard it a million fucking times before. Even talking about this is pointing out the obvious. You know what is is.

Taylor Allderdice is a lot of what we’ve heard from Wiz a hundred times before, but we’re no longer rooting for the underdog, and that changes things. It’s impossible to ignore: entering the world of mainstream music changes things. It changes the sound, it changes the content, and it changes the person behind the music. More often than not, the change is to the disappointment of the original fans. At the risk of sounding snobby, it’s a fact that most people (most, not all) who are passionate and well-versed in music do not enjoy what’s on the radio, and they do not enjoy what’s in the Hot 100. It sucks, but it’s true, and you can blame it on snobbery if you want, but there are a million reasons best left to another post on why this is the case.

Taylor Allderdice is not a great creative step, but it is a step away from the chart-seeking path that he was taking with Rolling Papers. If anything, it’s a step backwards, but to most Wiz fans, that’s a step in the right direction. While it’s not the leap that Wiz implied in his letter, this mixtape is a return to why we really liked Wiz in the first place. He’s still got a knack for melodic hooks. He’s not the best wordsmith, but he’s got a charismatic delivery and can craft a catchy ass song without being annoying. The beat selection is scattered, but strong enough to keep things interesting. From the smoked out to the synthed up, there’s no consistency to speak of, but his presence is enough to tie things together, and the jazzy vibe of songs like “Number 16” jump out.

If you weren’t a Wiz fan in the first place, Taylor Allerdice might not win you over, but if you’ve got an attachment to the young Pittsburgh stoner, this is a sign that he’s not sticking to the formula for success—he’s not taking the B.o.B route, and it’s a great thing to hear. Somewhere deep down inside Wiz Khalifa, there is a desire to do more than be a well-branded voice on hit songs. He promised artistry and depth, and he didn’t exactly deliver, but he did return to what gained him a rabid fanbase in the first place, and he’s not trying to be molded into anything he’s not. That’s a statement in itself.