If you peeped XXL's "Freshman 10" issue, you may have noticed a cover filled with a bunch of mean-muggin', serious dudes—except for Wiz Khalifa, who was cheesin' hard. Sure, one can make a simple deduction and assume Wiz was higher than his fellow rappers, which most likely was the case. But after years of trying to grind his way to the top of the rap game—starting with his 2005 mixtape debut, Prince of the City—Wiz has a lot to be happy about.
The Pittsburgh native doesn't have a smash hit, no big name co-sign, and he's from a city that hasn't made a blip on the rap radar. So how did this self-made rap star/stoner become a number one trending topic on Twitter? How is he selling out shows in New York City and all across the country by himself? It's because when you've been pushing mixtapes and albums that are as good as his latest project, Kush & Orange Juice, these things tend to happen. We here at Complex happen to appreciate dudes who can shut down The Internet, so it only made sense to have a proper sit-down with Mr. Spacely and get the run-down on his life, work ethic, and what the future holds...
LISTEN: Key Wiz Khalifa Songs You Should Know...
"Say Yeah" (2008)
"Car Service" W/ Curren$y (2009)
"This Plane" (2009)
"In The Cut" (2010)
Interview By Andrew Rivera
Complex: Between 4/20 and the release of Kush & Orange Juice, it seems like you must have had a great time last week. How did you spend the holiday?
Wiz Khalifa: I spent it in the studio, actually. I woke up in the morning, rolled like a foot long doob—I put like a quarter in it, like literally, and I smoked the whole thing on Ustream and it burned for like a whole hour and twenty minutes. After I did that, needless to say, I went and raided somebody's fridge, [Laughs] and then went to the studio.
Complex: What did you eat?
Wiz Khalifa: Turkey burgers...I had some cheese eggs. I had some strawberries—cause I like fresh fruit and shit like that.
Complex: Did you cook the cheese eggs yourself or did you get somebody's girlfriend to do it for you?
Wiz Khalifa: I had somebody's bitch cook those cheese eggs. [Laughs.]
Complex: You've said you don't like smoking blunts. Why?
Wiz Khalifa: I don't smoke any blunts. I used to smoke blunts, but when you smoke the quality of weed that we smoke, you want to taste all that weed. You don't want the blunt to get in the way. Plus blunts are real bad for you. They make your body ache, you be coughing up brown shit. I need my voice. I don't want to have blunt damage.
Complex: Good tip. For the people who don't know, you've been in the game for a long time. What's your writing process like and how has it changed over the years?
Wiz Khalifa: Really before I was on Prince of The City Vol. 1, and for a while after that, I would just hear a beat and go just write to it and just try to figure out a hook. I would write and just spit as hard as I could, which was cool for back then 'cause it really let people know that I was a good lyricist. Then after a while around like Star Power and Prince of the City Vol. 2, I started to really play with more melodies and singing and just trying to use different things, different swag. Just trying not to say stuff as hard, but be more about how I say it and then I kinda mixed those two [styles] together.
Now when I go in the studio I'll hear a beat and really, I let the beat tell me whatever I want to talk about. I never really write my hooks, I just do those off the head like mixing melodies up. The singing style, that sort of developed itself cause at first I was kind of shy to sing because I didn't think it was that tight. But people telling me that it was getting better and better. I kind of just stuck with the singing thing and now I'm at the point where I don't write on paper anymore. I'll just go in and I'll lay like four bars and I'll think about another four bars and come back and lay that, then put the hook together around that.
Complex: It seems like you've established a sound for not only yourself, but for Pittsburgh as well.
Wiz Khalifa: Oh yeah, coming from Pittsburgh, we never had a distinct sound. I was making something from nothing. So really when you hear that [mixtape], you're listening to a 17-year-old who was rapping what I enjoyed and what I listened to, my spin off of that. So through the years and becoming more of an individual and trying to be a pioneer, I had to play with the sounds more. I have really great people who work with me. [Producers like] Juliano, Sledgren, Jerm, the whole ID Labs crew, we know what we like. We know what we're comfortable with and how far we can take it. So the sound just kind of made itself, you could hear it develop. You could even hear me be more comfortable with my Pittsburgh accent because before people were telling me not to use it or that I sounded too Pittsburgh and people are not gonna like that because they weren't familiar. I was looking to fit in and that's cool because it got me into a position where I could grow out of it.
Complex: I read that you started rapping when you were really young with your Uncle. How old were you would you say?
Wiz Khalifa: I was in like...third grade! I was hella young. When I was younger I always knew that I wanted to rap or do something in front of people. I think it was more around the time where I was like 13 or 14 when I realized that I wanted to do this for real. That's when I started to go hard.
Complex: Do you think that there was a point where you thought, "Alright maybe this won't work out. Maybe I should go to school and do some other stuff"?
Wiz Khalifa: I never felt like the music wasn't gonna work 'cause I always worked hard at it and it always panned out for me. Every year it got better and better and even when I graduated high school my dad wanted me to go to college so he was like, "You got certain goals, but if you don't get there by this time then you have to go to school, but if you do, then you're straight." So I kind of passed that [school] up way before he even expected.
Complex: When the deal with Warner went sour and you left the label, did you have any fears of failing?
Wiz Khalifa: I knew the reality of the situation when I signed with Warner. I knew that wasn't going to change my life. When I did sign with Warner, I felt like I was going to do bigger stuff other than that, and I didn't feel like it was over. I always had my mind ready to do what I had to do and when it came to that point I was already prepared for it. It didn't overwhelm me and it didn't make me fall back and not want to work. So really I never got to the point where I was like, "Aw man," or got scared and thought something was going to happen. I definitely got frustrated because I was young and it was my first little situation, so I felt like there was things that should've been going on that wasn't going on. In the end, it taught me how hard I work for myself and in the end that's what's going to show through me and not anyone else. So when the situation was over, it wasn't a huge thing for me. I was already working on other things. Not working with other labels or anything like that, but just working on just building my plan, getting in touch with my fans and doing things that no label or anyone else could do for me.
Complex: When you compare yourself to the other people on the XXL cover, do you feel you've accomplished more with less support than they have?
Wiz Khalifa: I think it's fair to say that without that major push—just based off of a real grass root organic following—I've been able to sell out shows across the country. And not only just small markets, but huge markets like New York, Atlanta, Tallahassee, DC was sold out. When I left the label, I was better off really, because I knew how to market myself. It was just me making the music, making my videos, and doing what I do with my fashion thing and it really all came together. Man, it's really all just a blessing. I got great fans who not only support on the internet and download music, but they made Deal or No Deal number one on iTunes, and they also buy tickets two weeks before the shows so I sell out the show before it even happens. That shit makes me look good to other people.
Complex: How long ago did you start working on Kush & Orange Juice?
Wiz Khalifa: November. Yeah that's when I recorded the first song for it.
Complex: How much of it did you make while you were smoking kush and drinking orange juice?
Wiz Khalifa: [Laughs.] What?! Is that even a question?!
Complex: Do you notice a difference in your work when you record something high, versus being sober?
Wiz Khalifa: Well see, I'm one of those artist who's fortunate enough to always be high. I haven't not been high since like fuckin' ninth grade. [Laughs.]
Complex: How were you able to build the anticipation for the project?
Wiz Khalifa: I took it from a real fan perspective because more than anything, I'm a fan of music. The mixtape game—and just the game in general—is all fast paced. A lot of artists just make their tapes and drop it or everybody is like, "Yo I'm doing a mixtape every month of the year—every week of the month!" I was just like, I'm going to do the exact opposite of that. I made them wait 'cause it was real risky. People were like, "Oh you're never gonna drop it, and Kush & Orange Juice is gonna be like Detox". People were doubting me a lot. Some people were frontin' on it but they went from being impatient for a second to being patient because they thought I was waiting to drop it on 4/20. So I decided to drop it in between then and just catch everyone off guard. It was a good move.
Complex: Was the reception better than you imagined?
Wiz Khalifa: It's definitely as much as I thought it was gonna be. I hoped that it was going to be like this because I never have any expectations, but I was hoping that people would understand where I was coming from with the music. It ended up being a huge success and a great career move for me, so I'm happy.
Complex: You typically stick to your camp for beats, but you've talked about working with Drumma Boy and Jim Jonsin has confirmed that he has worked with you. How did you link up with those producers?
Wiz Khalifa: Those producers have people around them who listen to music and check out what's hot and tell them what's hot. We're trying to get a single and head to radio to promote the album, of course. So that's how we got linked up, just by a lot of people talking, keeping it funky, and we end up in Miami. Now we're in Atlanta, who knows where I'll be next?
Complex: What was the studio session like with Jim Jonsin?
Wiz Khalifa: Well with Jim, he don't really like smoke. He doesn't mind smokers but he doesn't like the smell. So like every five minutes I'd have to go away. I got to smoke by the pool and the hot tub. We was in Miami on a resort type thing, me and my homies, so we drinking Bombay and lemonade, coolin'. Working with Jim was great. I got like six songs done with him.
Complex: Are they going to be used soon?
Wiz Khalifa: Well, we're going to see what's up. As far as singles and putting the album together, I do know that me and him click real good. I want to do more writing with him and work with him. I think it's because he sees that I'm more than just rap. We both have a knack for more than rap and music in general.
Complex: And what about Drumma Boy?
Wiz Khalifa: I met Drumma when I was with Warner. So when he heard that I was in town and I was doing my thing looking for a single and he's got Jeezy's single and a couple of other people's songs on the way. Drumma is always gonna be there. The experience was real loud, lot of weed. He smokes blunts, I'm trying to get him to smoke papers, but he won't do it!
Complex: You've sampled songs like Alice Deejay's "Better Off Alone" and Frou Frou's "Let Go." How much non-rap do you listen to?
Wiz Khalifa: Oh man, it's like 60% other music and 40% rap music. Everything from like Kool & the Gang to Journey and the Police. I watch a lot of late night VH1 music videos. [Laughs.] Those songs inspire me because they're so well-written, just like the format and how they're put together. I think part of the appeal of my music is that I format my songs in different types of ways so that it's not just a rap song. It's rap music, but it's got more range. I like to add different stuff to it because I listen and learn from other shit and then I go rap.
Complex: Your parents were in the military. Did traveling around with them all over the world and seeing different cultures influence your eclectic taste for music and style?
Wiz Khalifa: I wouldn't say that too much because I was pretty young, so anything that my parents said or did is what I was influenced by. On the weekends my dad would turn the TV off and put music on. He would pour himself a little drink, and we would listen to records all night and dance 'til like 12. So I think that played a huge role. My mom always listened to music. We went on a lot of road trips when I was younger, too, so just driving and singing and kind of developed my ear for music too. If a song would come on for half a second I would know what it was...even as a little-ass kid.
Complex: One of the things that's noted by a lot of people is that you have an amazing ear for beats. What do you look for in a beat?
Wiz Khalifa: I think part of my process is if you listen to a CD and spin through it, you don't have to listen very long to know if you like it. You don't need to listen to more than 3 seconds to know that that's what you fuck with. So that's how I pick my beats. I grab a bunch of beats and as soon as I hear it, if I fuck with it, I jumping on it.
Complex: First instinct is always the best. Switching gears, how long have your parents known you smoked? And what was their reaction?
Wiz Khalifa: [Laughs.] My mom...
Arthur Pitt [Wiz's PR/Marketing guru] interupts: You better be careful with mentioning your mom, I just got in trouble the other day. [Laughs.]
Wiz Khalifa: [Laughs.] Nah, nah, nah, she's cool, she aight, she like that shit. [Laughs.] My mom knew I was smoking when I was 15. No, actually she knew the first time I smoked when I was in 6th grade, so around 13. I got in trouble for it and I thought weed was bad for a minute, but then I started smoking everyday! [Laughs.] So when I was like 15 she found out. She wasn't mad about it. She was just like, "If you gonna be smokin' give me some, nigga!" [Laughs.]
Complex: So your mother smokes?
Wiz Khalifa: Oh hell yeah! That's the only reason why I know about weed.
Complex: Have you smoked with her?
Wiz Khalifa: Um, yes. [Laughs.] I did. I will get my ass beat if I don't smoke with her. [Laughs.]
Complex: You have really dedicated fans. What's the craziest "Taylor Gang or..." statement that you've ever heard.
Wiz Khalifa: [Laughs.] Oh man, there be a lot of crazy ones. Somebody said "Taylor Gang or head butt a knife". Somebody said "Taylor Gang or fall into the spiked well off Mortal Kombat." Man, they be crazy dog! They be wild.
Complex: Why do you only rap about hooking up with other dudes' girlfriends? You don't mess with single girls?
Wiz Khalifa: Oh, man! This is the topic of the day! [Laughs.] I'm not like the other-guy-bitch-taker. I'm not going to go up and take anybody's girl. I almost had to punch this dude in his mouth because he was like—first off I didn't do nothing with her, but he was like, "Yeah, all my girl listens to is you, Wiz, and I'm pretty sure you've smoked with her and I love your music but I'm pretty pissed about it!" So I'm like, well, what do you want to do? Like why are you approaching me, dog? Don't talk to me about it! Talk to her about it!
The truth of it is, these girls have boyfriends and they be out trying to act like they don't have boyfriends, but they do! So like that's just my own way of being like, you chicks think you're slick. You're coming to my hotel room and you're staying here and you're smoking this weed and you know you have a boyfriend.
Complex: So you're the victim here? Shame on these women lying to you and taking advantage?
Wiz Khalifa: Yeah! Exactly! It's no disrespect to the boyfriends. I'm just trying to let them know.
Complex: Ah so you're really doing a service for your fellow man. You're a philanthropist.
Wiz Khalifa: Exactly. These dudes' girls are out here running wild and I'm just trying to let you know. I'm just giving you a heads up, like this is what a friend does, dog, you know? Your true homies let you know when your chick is running wild, man. [Laughs.]
Complex: Where do you see yourself a year from now?
Wiz Khalifa: Hopefully still building on what I've done up until now. I can't see into the future though. Hopefully have more product, good music, more fans, but if not, I'm cool with the ones I have right now. [Laughs.]
Complex: What's good with you and Currensy's How Fly 2: The Movie?
Wiz Khalifa: Oh we're doing that shit! Soon as I get time. There is no paper work or anything, but that's a done deal. We have to do that within the next two years, just for the stoners!
Complex: What's good with the album?
Wiz Khalifa: I don't got a release for it. I got a name, but I haven't let it out. I'm gonna let the name out when we have a couple more songs and a single. We're working. I'd give you the info. but I need a cover man! [Laughs.]