Rappers challenging other MCs to do battle has been common practice since hip-hop’s inception. Of course, the matches have all had their varied results. Nevertheless, Pittsburgh, PA’s 22-year-old Wiz Khalifa, a rising star who was voted MTV’s “Hottest Breakthrough MC,” is convinced that he can go blow for blow and emerge victorious from this latest gantlet.
“I’m about to just get a camera and bombard niggas’ studio sessions and smoke them under the table, so they can see how much rappers don’t smoke – and how much me and my homie Spliff do smoke,” Wiz boasts, adding that although OG Kush is his all-time favorite, he highly favors Headband (a cross of OG Kush, Master Kush and Sour Diesel) at the moment.
In bygone days, a number of rap artists connected heavily with the weed-smoking community, and many of those artists still do. However, Wiz – an extremely fan-friendly rapper – has positioned himself as hip-hop’s new marijuana spokesman. On his mixtape skits, he’s even incorporated “Mr. EZ Wider,” who serves not only as a smooth and mysterious presence, but as a clear indication of Wiz’s rolling preferences since giving up blunts over a year and a half ago.
“I got a really sick bong that I enjoy, too,” he adds.
Neither his deal with Warner Bros. Records nor his 2006 debut, Show and Prove, managed to propel Wiz to the forefront of the rap scene. However, after departing from the label in 2009 and releasing the album Deal or No Deal, Wiz saw his career begin to catapult. Nationwide, he’s now selling out arenas filled with fans who vigorously represent his flourishing Taylor Gang clique, throwing joints onstage and handing him weed at almost every show.
“My shows are a great representation for the hip-hop community,” he says. “When the marijuana community comes out, there’s rarely any problems. But a lot of people don’t know that if you let everyone smoke, everything will be cool.” He attributes a huge portion of his current rampant success – including his recent signing with Atlantic via Rostrum Records – to his incessant utilization of social-media platforms like Twitter and YouTube. Early in 2010, he released his hit mixtape, Kush and Orange Juice – a title that soared within hours to the No. 1 trending global topic on Twitter, as well as No. 1 on Google’s “hot search” trends.
Wiz’s easygoing personality and strong affinity for high-end fashion, champagne, women and airplanes (to say nothing of elevated states in general) are abundant in his music. Whether he’s sampling rock, classic soul, pop or electronic music, or holding his own alongside heavyweight talents like Rick Ross and Curren$y, Wiz is a risk taker who’s never content with anything less than dancing to the beat of his own drum. Even as a child, he felt the subconscious desire to be different. “I used to tuck my pants in my socks. My dad told me I used to do that out of nowhere,” Khalifa laughs. “Just the fact that I would run around blurting shit out, singing songs and making loud noises, having to be heard, made me different. I’m not the average individual who someone’s going to run into.”
In his poverty-stricken industrial hometown, which Wiz has dubbed “Pistolvania” – and where, as a teen, he partook in the low-grade weed that locals call “50” – opportunities for advancement are rare. There, the people’s faith in these hard economic times resides primarily in the city’s professional sports teams. But for a multitude of Pittsburghers, Wiz symbolizes a new breed of hope. To his great surprise, when the Make-A-Wish Foundation agreed to grant a local cancer patient a wish, the young recipient asked to meet Wiz.
“I was like, ‘Damn, a kid that’s going through what he’s going through wants to meet me?’” he says. “It’s nothing I seek commendation for, but I went to his house and kicked it with him. He raps and got a chance to spit for me. And I don’t know if he wants it to be out there, but there was some smoking going on around there. I don’t know where that shit was coming from, but it didn’t stop. It was real smoky!”
Despite his success, Wiz still enjoys living in Pittsburgh with his mom, whom he’s been smoking with since he was 16. He admits that she was reluctant to smoke with him until he turned 18, but eventually she caved. “She started seeing the big bags of weed that I had, so she was like, ‘Yeah, you might as well break bread,’” he laughs.
In all seriousness, though, it’s safe to assume that Wiz’s torch will be burning brightly for some time to come.