Wiz Khalifa | Presumably the Only Witness Protection Assignment Relocated to the Hollywood Hills
I walk up a hill in Glendale, California. Cool wind whispers through the valley.I smell weed from a mile away. Whoever is smoking isn’t concerned with being caught, I promise you that.
I sense I’ve come to the right place. The identity revealed amidst the cloud of ganja must belong to Cameron Jibril Thomaz, aka Wiz Khalifa, a champion smoker of the sacred plant. I see three Escalades and a bright green souped-up Dodge that belongs to the man himself, again, another beam of irreverence and confidence. The car sits there like a certified demon.
I see assistants sputtering around; making sure the photo shoot is running smoothly. I see other people that may or may not be famous. I hear some reggae: bum-bum-bum-bum-bee-dum. Then I see Khalifa upon entering the home. He is an enigma. Full stop.
I’m a witness to what Hollywood and arguably the rest of the world salivates over, or what they wish they could taste: a character, a person, an artist that has committed the beautiful crime, the crime of passion; one that is neck deep in truth, or, in the case of this man with the undeniable aura, neck deep in music.
SAINT LAURENT BY ANTHONY VACCARELLO jacket and jeans, GOSHA RUBCHINSKIY boxer briefs, stylist’s own belt, and DITA sunglasses.
He looks a bit like The Predator: dreads flowing, sunglasses on inside, chest and back revealing a pastiche of serious ink, standing a legitimate 6 foot 3 or 4 or 5, an air of calm mixed with don’t fuck with me exudes.
This is what it’s about. I would say rapper, I would say hip-hop, I would say pop star, but he’s transcended all of that. Khalifa has become a creature all his own. Khalifa has become a species all his own.
“Should we open some champagne?” the photographer suggests. “No...” Khalifa says slowly, mulling over the idea, “Let me work first...” Part of me was hoping Khalifa would want to pop some Cris. Part of me was surprised; after all, the room was full of smoke—KK, to be specific. Khalifa Kush to be exact. Why not lubricate the scene?
I stood in a small kitchen and watched Khalifa move. Man, I like this guy. I was born well after the days of rock and roll, but I imagine Khalifa is what Jimi Hendrix was like. As a matter of fact, you can watch an interview with Hendrix and Dick Cavett on YouTube, and Khalifa and Hendrix do smack of one another, that is; slowed down, real, bizarre, singular, dope, stylized, passionate, resonant, smoky, dripping élan...all of it. Words are mere baggage.
I wait for about four hours. I watch the photo shoot. Khalifa and I are introduced to each other by some skittish industry person. She doesn’t really know I’m cool. She doesn’t really know I’ve got an ounce or two of indica in my own pockets. She doesn’t really know I fuck with Khalifa, all the way back from his first Pittsburgh birthed hit single “Say Yeah,” up to his most recent mixtape Laugh Now, Fly Later, a balanced group of memorable tracks. Or maybe she does. Maybe she knows I’m cool. Who cares at this point?
I hang out. I consider talking to the stylist. She has shiny pink claws. I might be in love. It doesn’t work. I decide to take notes instead. I write out my favorite Khalifa songs, which reads as follows: “For Everybody” (actually a Juicy J joint with R. City), “Plane 4 U” (a pseudo-political love song to the herb), and lastly a plethora of rip-roaring sex-on-the-beach and furiousness-laden songs that feature Khalifa’s long time collaborator Ty Dolla $ign—the two have a musical rapport that’s a match made in dro-rap Heaven.
After a while all the key players leave: the groovy stylist and her assistants, the jumpy corporate peeps. The photographers start to relax.
I’m escorted upstairs. I meet Khalifa’s girlfriend, Izabela, in a makeshift greenroom. Izabela is holding a puppy, “Yeah, I just got that for her,” Khalifa says. Izabela leaves the room soon after. I wondered where she was going. She may have been gassing up the Dodge. A few people stay behind and listen in.
Before I speak Khalifa waves a hand to an assistant, “Hey, babe, can I get those doobies?”
Quickly, a person floats over to the couch Khalifa is draped on. The person hands him an extra large pack of Raw cones. Khalifa opens the pack, about a dozen pre-rolled joints fall out, spilling around him like dog biscuits, “You can have one...” Khalifa tells me, handing me a joint, smiling, a shiny tooth glinting.
“Thanks,” I say, taking one and sparking up. Ah, to smoke with Khalifa. I’m on Cloud 9. I wish I could send a note to my high school principal, it would read: Go Fuck Yourself.
I ask the obvious, because, why not?
“Can you speak on authenticity?” and I blow some kush out of the side of my mouth, “Why is it important for an artist to have it?”
I feel some of Khalifa’s hesitation to speak to me. I don’t blame him. You get that big and everybody wants a piece. You have one of the top-ranked songs on YouTube—the main sphere for the eyes of the world, I think we all can admit—with “See You Again” featuring Charlie Puth at over 3.3 billion views and you’re global and you have hit records and you’re a mainstay in pop culture, and man, everybody...wants...a...piece.
But I feel the concern melt away as he talks. My questions, dare I say, are good ones, fresh ones, or maybe I’m just stoned...
“I feel like authenticity is very much needed and it’s really important because as artists we all get inspired and we love everything that we see,” Khalifa says, slouching deeper toward the nirvana of the pale blue couch. He wears a giant white t-shirt and jewelry that would make King Herod cry.
He continues: “The main goal is to develop your own style, and you’re going to pull little elements and little pieces of what you love and those moments that make you excited and that’s what is going to help you build it. But to be authentic and to stay true to that style and to keep those elements and to build on top of it and become better, I think that is a true artist’s responsibility. Because I think that means that you take your art seriously and you’re not just cool with getting popular and getting money off of it. You’re into creating and trying to do things better or do things differently. I feel like there is a whole difference between somebody who is an authentic person as opposed to somebody who can reenact what they see. The authenticity always wins...”
“But it’s kind of risky,” I add, “It’s a scary position to put yourself in: to be authentic. Because there’s not going to be anybody like you walking around.”
Khalifa nods, he studies his lighter, he rips his joint, “Right. You’re never going to sell out either. You’re never going to do what people think you should do.You’re always going to do what you think is the right thing to do.”
Khalifa isn’t new to the game, mind you: he knows about resiliency. “I’ve heard ‘no’ so many times,” he tells me, with a flick of ash to the carpet, “I’ve been told that songs weren’t going to work and they’ve gone number one. I’ve been told songs don’t sound like a typical Wiz Khalifa record and they’ve changed my career.”
I’m talking to a salty vet at the ripe age of 30. A Virgo. He started when he was 16, entrenched in the days of battle rap. He couldn’t quite break free; find his own voice, if you will, until some time later, “I was more or less forced into being authentic. When you’re growing up you try to be what you see around you...there was a lot of East Coast rap and big clothes and people weren’t talking about how they felt. It was really gangster and really hard and there was a lot of battle rappers at that time too and half of the shit they were saying was what they were going to do to somebody. I was competing with that, but it really wasn’t who I was. There was nobody to hold the mirror up for me. I had to look down into myself and say, ‘This is who I really am and this is what I want people to see me as,’ and those were the best moments for me. And that’s why I feel like I was forced to be my authentic self, because nothing else fucking worked.”
Khalifa creates a vibe for an album off smoking cannabis, watching films, creating with his Taylor Gang community, and listening to his fans, to name a few.
On cannabis: “I like smoking weed all day. Just being high as fuck in general. It helps me relax and crack jokes with the homies. That’s where the real exciting stuff comes from. When you’re not really thinking too much.”
On films: “I dissect movies and documentaries. In the studio it’s lots of movies. I feel like music is so visual. If I’m in the right headspace, if I’m looking at the right shit then I’ll be able to make the right music.”
On Taylor Gang and his community: “It’s really important. Without that I think it would be much more frustrating to make music. Ya know, if I don’t have a hook, Ty [Dolla $ign] might stumble in high as fuck and just sing some shit. It’s great to have that help. Some people fight that off, or they don’t know what it’s like to have that kind of assistance, but with us [Taylor Gang] everybody is really talented and gives without really expecting too much in return. It’s a great dynamic to work with.”
On fans: “I’m really into what my fans think about my music. I try to guide them into different directions and take them places with me. I look at the platform that I’ve built and they need that sound. They need a certain thing some times that only we can provide. I don’t take credit for it just being me, because it has to do with my production and a lot of different elements that make people feel the way that they feel about the music.”
...And I’m deep in the KK cloud. The stuff is good. My head feels warm and my heartbeat is slow and relaxed.
I broach vulnerability. Khalifa’s new album, which is yet to be titled and presented by Atlantic Records, features that feeling. He answers readily, “I feel like vulnerability is really important, because fans want to hear where you’re at in your life. When you can sit down and tell them in a way where they can visualize it as you’re telling them...it’s a really good connection. I feel like we owe it to our fans. It keeps me grounded, as well. Like I was saying, how do you get to this point? You see me here with all of the fun songs about what this life is like, but how do you actually get to that? The fans love that. And I love that as a fan as well.”
Along with a mélange of emotions comes an album rife with surprising and exciting features, plus those anthemic and spaced-out and hard yet smile-inducing sounds Khalifa does so well.
My joint is now a stinger. Before we go, I have to ask: What is this? What is an artist? I want to know. There’s so many out there struggling through a desert of uncertainty. Scraping to find an identity, to secure some of that light that Khalifa has managed to keep within his grasp for quite some time.
He pauses, then he hums, then someone’s phone goes off mid-orgasm of thought, “An artist is unsure but sure,” he finally says, very lucid.
The room goes quiet.Open your eyes. Find your trip.Wait, Khalifa’s got more, “They’re talented...but they don’t always know how talented they are,” he adds, a melancholic truism if there ever was one, “It takes other people for them to know that...any real artist is risky...”
Then Khalifa smiles. What else is there to do?
Puff. Puff. Pass.
I wish this dude would take me on tour: coming to an arena near you in the beautiful year of 2018.
Weed shall be legal. Smoke that medical. Preach!
Written by Augustus Britton
Photographed by Mason Poole
Styled by Zoe Costello
Groomer: Tracy Love