Wiz Khalifa

by Brian Formo


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Wiz Khalifa

Turnt Up, Still Down

Wiz Khalifa isn’t in denial. He just exercises positivity first. When his wife of one year, model Amber Rose, was using Twitter to accuse him of cheating on her and to add a PR push to their divorce papers, Wiz tweeted a picture of himself hugging a French bulldog puppy. He captioned it “Smile for the day” and followed with, “today is a magical day for many of us. Let it be yours too.”

I call Khalifa about two days later and expect to hear a bummed, combative voice. Instead I get chuckles. “I feel open to a lot of new things, and very happy,” he says, from his new pad in Los Angeles.

The 27-year-old rapper has a lot to be happy about. He just had his first chart-topping LP with his Blacc Hollywood. “It’s hard to gauge what people want,” Khalifa says (the guy personally penned an apology to his fans who criticized his breakout LP, Rolling Papers). “I try to gauge what people need. Blacc Hollywood is what people need right now.”

We spent most of our time talking about a recent performance that happened during a time when people needed a lot from him. Wiz played a show in St. Louis two days after an unarmed black teen, Michael Brown, was shot by a police officer in nearby Ferguson, Missouri. Khalifa played one night after the tear gas started mushrooming through the streets; he played during a night when news footage showed a police force combating a community. Khalifa asked for his fans to help keep the peace. “It was a good night in St. Louis,” he says, pride in his voice, that unflagging positivity. “Everybody needed a release and [a place] to enjoy themselves.”

Shortly after, in a video interview with VIBE, Khalifa stated, “I started driving when I was 16, and I can’t remember one time being pulled over and being asked for my license and registration. They pull you over with a gun to your head, and tell you to get out of the car.” But in the same interview, he was quick to step back a little, “I don’t want to offend any cops… There’s a lot of police that keep me safe.” Again, Wiz finds positivity in the most unlikely places.

“I’ve always dealt with that type of reality and I’ve always put that in my music. But a lot of people look over it, because most of the messages in my music are about having fun and entertaining. But being judged because of your color, clothes, or size, or just looking like a threat because of your age—I know what that’s about. And the older I get and the more I produce, people will be able to look back and say, Wiz was speaking on these things.”

Despite his popularity, Khalifa knows about being judged. He’s eviscerated for his thin build and his lounging lyrics. “People look at me just as a pothead, but I’m glad to pass 25 and not be dead. Nobody focuses on violence in Pittsburgh, but it’s there. In January, I attended the funeral of my uncle—who’s actually younger than me—he was 20. That stuff has always been very real to me, but I’m not going to go out of my way to make it anyone else’s reality.”

Instead, Khalifa would like to continue to alter your reality. “I want to keep helping people, especially with marijuana, medically [or otherwise]. Open more eyes.” And bud is the center of his branding enterprise.

The Pittsburgh City Council officially declared December 12, 2012 Wiz Khalifa Day. Khalifa wore an all caps “DOPE” hat to Pittsburgh City Hall. “Everybody got stoned,” he says, laughing.

But Wiz has no stoner-cum-politician agendas. He’s working on a Mac & Devin sequel with Snoop Dogg, and his management company will continue producing merch and booking up-and-comers for his Under the Influence of Music Tour, but—smoking weed in space—“That’s next on the list,” Khalifa says. And while Waka Flocka Flame recently took to Twitter and “hired” actor Seth Rogen as his Personal Blunt Roller for $50,000 a year (“That’s a lot of money,” Khalifa says), Khalifa has gone a different route: “I have to think about that, it’s very important.” After long, pensive reflection, he goes with Family Guy’s Brian Griffin.

So, yes, Khalifa is first and foremost an entertainer. But if you listen between his party verses and look through his puppy-hugging tweets (whilst his soon-to-be ex-wife seeks sole custody of their child), you’ll find a man trying to create positive energy for his fans (dubbed Taylors, a “DOPE” Wiz hat-tip, the leader of the so-called Taylor Gang) with everything he’s involved with—even in his turbulent personal life.

“It’s all about taking care of the people who love and support you unconditionally,” Khalifa says. “My fans do that… I’m a fan of musicians as well, so I understand how much energy goes into being a fan. [I] love to spread that energy back to everybody else. That’s the only way to be.”

See, Wiz doesn't feel your hate. He can’t stop for rewind, so ahead of his time.

Photographer: Mitchell Nguyen McCormack for ArtWingNY.com. Stylist: Ian Connor. Groomer: Tracy Love. Photography Assistant: Jon Norris. Special Thanks: Eric Silverberg, Cisco Adler, Barbara Adler, and Lou Adler