Being different comes with its pros and cons, and Pittsburgh rapper Wiz Khalifa admits that he’s a tad different from the norm. “I’m pretty unique,” he says, as the bright Los Angeles, California sun reflects his surroundings through the lenses of his sunglasses. To add to his individuality, a few days before the DUB shoot, he incorporated a yellow streak in the front left portion of his hair. After his 20th tattoo, he stopped counting. His latest is a large shark on his back that he got in August. “I’m not the average person who someone’s going to run into. There’s different ways that people take me. A lot of people think I’m different.”
Being a child of two parents who served in the U.S. Military resulted in a lot of travel for Wiz, coupled with exposure to a wide array of cultures. For much of his childhood, Wiz (born in Minot, North Dakota) would move from Pittsburgh to South Carolina, Georgia, Oklahoma, Germany, Japan and England. In the midst of his journeys, he found music as a conduit to express his random thoughts. He laughs about his childhood days when he’d blurt out sundry words, sing random songs, and would do anything to make his presence known.
It was in the third grade that Wiz began rapping, but didn’t take it seriously until he was 13. In 2002, the child rap prodigy caught the attention of Rostrum Records, inking a deal with the independent Pittsburgh label. Soon he would declare himself “prince of the city,” the title of volumes 1 and 2 of the mixtapes released in the years that followed at Rostrum. A year after the 2006 debut of his album Show and Prove, Wiz signed with Warner Bros. Records. In 2008 he came aboard as an act on the DUB Show Tour, performing several hits including “Say Yeah.” “I was happy when I was on the DUB Tour,” he recalls. “It was early in my career. It was kind of quick. I learned a little bit…performing in front of big crowds.”
It’s cool just to have as many fans that not only support the music, but they support the lifestyle. They like to dress like us; they like to use the same slang…so it’s always a good thing.However, while Wiz was signed with Warner Bros. he says he felt creative constraints, so when they released him from the label, he was even more decisive and determined about the direction he was headed. In an effort to show the world that he wouldn’t be stopped, in 2009 he released Deal or No Deal, an album that followed a nearly sold out tour. “The Waken Baken Tour sold more than 90 thousand tickets,” he explains about the 36 stops, mentioning that he has acquired an abundance of support from his “Taylor Gang” representatives. “It’s cool just to have as many fans that not only support the music, but they support the lifestyle. They like to dress like us; they like to use the same slang…so it’s always a good thing. It brings a good look to all hip-hop crowds in general. Club owners and promoters like us a lot because the shows are positive and it brings a lot of people.”
It was April of 2010 when Wiz released the free downloadable link to his mixtape Kush and Orange Juice on Twitter, and within hours, the title became the No. 1 trending topic. That mixtape buzz prompted MTV, who labeled Wiz “the king of Twitter,” to send a camera crew to Pittsburgh, for the first time ever, to film Wiz for an episode of “Mixtape Mondays.” At that point, there was no denying that he was truly the “prince” of his city.
In the summer of 2010, he’d reached a deal with Atlantic Records, declining his close comrade Rick Ross' offer to sign with his Maybach Music label. Now, the rapper’s deep fixation with elevation—verbalized in much of his music—are words that have become a vivid reality. And, apparently the universe has fully returned just what he’s put out. In September of 2010, he released “Black and Yellow,” (an ode to his 2010 Dodge Challenger SRT8 and all of Pittsburgh’s sports teams), which went from gold to platinum status within a 19-day period (December 10-19), and serves as the first single for his third studio album Rolling Papers.
“I came up with the title Rolling Papers based off of everything that I’ve done in my career so far,” he reveals. “I tried to encompass everything into one. Since I smoke trees, I figured I’d use a paper to do that. Then I also decided to use other things relevant to the title, so it wouldn’t be about just weed. Like when I left Warner, I got my rolling papers. I didn’t use any papers to write this album. A lot of people don’t know that I don’t use any paper to write down my ideas and stuff, so it’s like me saying goodbye to writing on paper—rolling paper. It’s a couple of other things. I’ll just let it make sense to more people later on. The album is going to be real mature. The sound is going to be all the way refined. It’s a sound that I’ve been building for years, and feature tracks from my producers Jim Johnson, Stargate, of course, and my guys ID Productions.”
In the beginning of the 2010 NFL season the Steelers chose “Black and Yellow” as their anthem. Before the kick off at the team’s 2011 AFC championship game against the NY Jets, Wiz proudly performed the hit on national TV. Ironically, most sportscasters refer to the Steelers as “Black and Yellow” instead of the name designated to the team in 1933. And the L.A. Lakers adopted his “Purp and Yellow” remix, featuring Snoop Dogg, Game, and Kendrick Lamar as their anthem. “Howard Stern was talking about ‘Black and Yellow’ this morning and so was 'The Today Show,'" mentions Rostrum Records President Benjy Grinberg to Wiz, as the rapper scrolled through his Blackberry. “Ha ha! That’s crazy!” laughs Wiz who made his first nighttime TV appearance on “The George Lopez Show” the night prior to the show.
My Challenger rules are: no food, no cigarettes, don't get comfortable and don't ask any questions...just ride.“I came up with ‘Black and Yellow’ after getting the Dodge Challenger SRT8 in May 2010,” Wiz explains. “I knew I was going to get the Challenger. I didn’t know I was going to get it in black and yellow. In 2010 the SRT8s only came in two colors and yellow was one of them. When you go up in engine size you get different colors. So that was the color for that year. I got blessed with it, and then I wrote the song. It’s all about Pittsburgh pride. My hair is black and yellow. Everything is black and yellow.” The rapper adds that the yellow streak in his hair is permanent, much like the rules that apply for passengers who enter his car. “My Challenger rules are: no food, no cigarettes, don't get comfortable and don't ask any questions...just ride.”
Wiz credits his comrades, rappers Rick Ross and Spitta (Curren$y) with educating him about cars. However, unlike Ross who possess an affinity for luxury imports, Wiz relates more to the automotive tastes of Spitta, who Wiz stated owns an SS Monte Carlo, SS El Camino, and several other pickup trucks. “Spitta named my Charger Charlie,” he says, noting he developed a liking for muscle cars in high school. “Spitta put me on to the whip game when I first met him.” His first car was a 1996 Chrysler Sebring, which lasted a mere four months before he blew out the engine, followed by a 1998 Pontiac Bonneville whose engine he says also ‘blew up’ on a road trip to Maryland.
Chances are when Wiz is driving around in the Challenger he’s listening to two of his all time favorite albums. Snoop Dogg’s Doggy Style or Outkast’s Aquemeni are oozing out of the Challenger’s sound system. “Those are two really good driving CDs,” he says. “If you don’t have a playlist you can just let them ride.” He also adds what he appreciates most about the Challenger is its engine and the way it handles.
Although Wiz has described his best moment in his Challenger as being the moment he purchased it, when asked his worst moment he jokingly says, “I haven’t had one yet so please don’t jinx it.” Overall, he’s a laid back guy, and although he catches a mild case of road rage from time to time, he says he never goes further than “a combination of a few curse words, nothing too bad.”
Last year it was no problem for Wiz to exit his Challenger with the greatest of ease and pump gas in Pittsburgh; however, things have changed a bit. “I can’t drive the Challenger through Pittsburgh because it’s too hot,” he candidly admits. “Everybody knows that I’m driving it now, so I had to put it away.”
So as the old adage goes, “the more money, more problems,” but Wiz says, “It’s just more responsibility. More work. You get money, you want to keep money. So you have to work hard.”