Wiz Khalifa: Shine ’Cause I Grind
With a new deal on Warner Bros., is this Pittsburgh MC ready to kick back and put his city on the map? If you ask Wiz, the struggle has only begun.
Two years ago, Pittsburgh rapper Wiz Khalifa bragged that he had “a street buzz before [he] had peachfuzz” on his debut mixtape Prince of the City. At the time, he was an unassuming, somewhat shy teen who could be found at the ’Burgh’s ID Labs studios scribbling lyrics in his notebook and learning the knobs in the producer’s deck, hours after the rest of the MCs left the stable.
Today, with Khalifa recently dropping Prince of the City 2, all that shy shit is gone. The notebooks are scrapped. In the trailer for his new mixtape, you see him in the booth spittin’ lyrics jotted in his Sidekick. At ID Labs, he mans the control boards, cueing up songs from his deep digital catalogue, rockin’ his head to his every creation. A huge, canary-diamond Pittsburgh Pirates “P” swings from his neck.
With three mixtapes (Prince Of The City, Grow Season and Prince Of The City 2) and a street album (Show and Prove) to his name and a slew of performances from “Pistolvania” to New York, the kid has demonstrated he can produce product with his independent crew Rostrum Records. Now, after inking a deal with Warner Brothers this summer, he’s out to show he can move the product.
In an interview with XXLMAG.com at his ID Labs “home,” the 19-year-old speaks confidently with direct eye contact. Wiz earned his swagger by logging in more hours in the studio than he could pay for back in the day, and now it’s paying off. He’s been featured in just about every hip-hop and music media outlet that matters. His buzz has officially begun to outgrow the streets, just like the peachfuzz has officially grown into a moustache on his upper lip.
Wiz Khalifa "Be Easy"
Wiz Khalifa f/ Kev Da Hustla & S. Money "Head To The Sky"
Wiz Khalifa "Poppin' Rubberbands"
all taken from Prince Of The City 2 (2007)
You were grinding for almost two years between the two installments of Prince Of The City. How have you changed?
There’s definitely been a lot of growth and development, as far as me learning how to use my voice in different ways. On Prince Of The City 2 you’ll hear a lot of tracks with me singing on them—not like trying to blow, but harmonies and hooks. Also, my wordplay has developed, my concepts, my hooks have gotten better. The whole POTC2 is original beats—these are well-formatted songs. It’s pretty much different than any other mixtape that’s out right now.
You’re sending a lot of messages to the haters on this new one. Are you positioning yourself as a battle rapper, or are you more concerned with making hits?
I can battle rap. Some people just get caught up in that one facet of music, though. I try to cover it all and be the best at everything. I gotta make singles. I gotta make mixtape songs, and if someone wanna battle, I gotta be able to do that as well. I don’t really get into it all like that because there ain’t a lot of money in that. I’d rather just do this, and do more shows and do more stuff to get people to like me rather than all that friction.
You stay working with other Pittsburgh artists. Have you begun to establish relationships with other rappers outside of the ’Burgh yet?
I meet these dudes, but as far as establishing relationships, I haven’t gotten there. I feel like I gotta establish myself in the game a little bit more. I’m really not trying to ride nobody else’s wave into the game, or get some song with the biggest name dude around, because the audience ain’t gonna be payin’ attention to me then, they gonna be payin’ attention to him. So I’m really trying to get myself out there, to make a name for myself to the point where those artists will want to come work with me. I think it will get to that point. I got a lot of respect for a lot of these dudes I see and meet, ’cause I do a lot of shows, but there’s no relationships or nothing.
Who do you consider your peers in the game?
I consider every artist my peer, but who I like? I mean, Weezy is the best rapper right now, as far as spittin’ goes, so lyrically I gotta always make sure I’m at least keeping up with him. Kanye and Common, ’cause them dudes…their albums are wild.
Now that you’re on a major label, Warner Bros. Records, how does that up the ante for you?
It looks bigger to the people more than anything. But to me, now I gotta get to the next step. It’s my whole lil’ journey through this game. I got a lot more to do, but I’m excited about where I’m at. It’s making me go harder. I always took it all the way serious, but now it’s to the point where it’s a job—it’s paying my bills, it’s feeding me. I’m good off rap, so this is what I have to do to make sure I’m doing good. Plus, it’s just good for the whole Pittsburgh scene. It lets everybody else know that we got things poppin’ here and it gets people who were non-supporters at first to take part in what we’re doing.
Do you feel pressure to carry the whole city of Pittsburgh on your back?
I don’t feel no pressure because, like, the city wasn’t fucking with me when I was just doing my thing, when it was just me fucking with me. I’m glad that the city supports me, but I don’t let it give me no pressure because at the end of the day, this is just what makes me happy. But representing Pittsburgh and putting the ‘Burgh on the map definitely makes me happy and I take a whole lot of pride in that.
When’s your first release from Warner dropping?
We don’t have a release date as of right now, but we got the “Young’n On His Grind” single that’s been going crazy. The video’s all over the place. The spins just keep doublin’ and triplin’. We’re about to kick off the next single [“Say Yeah,” his Warner Brothers Records debut], which is the big one.
Has Warner made you feel like a priority artist on the label?
Yeah, they definitely make me feel like a priority. I understand how things work on labels, so things get slow sometimes, but that’s just dealing with the game. I’m patient, and I got faith in my [Rostrum Records] team. They take care of all that stuff and make sure that’s all worked out for me. Everything’s been gravy. I’m happy with the whole Warner situation.
What specifically attracted you to Warner?
They were more direct than anybody else. Everybody else was like, “We’ll take a look at him. Yeah, we heard about him.” But Warner was like, “Okay, we going out here to see him, we gonna talk to him, and we gonna make this happen.” They basically were the most aggressive and were talking the best for my career. They were saying what I needed to hear as far as what I want to do with my future.
Warner’s not necessarily known as a hip hop powerhouse label.
They have a lot of new staff. A lot of them are from Interscope and were there when 50 and Eminem were blowin’ up. They have a lot of people who helped build Death Row Records. These are the people who’ve been hands-on in my project. It’s a real all-around effort. It’s not like it’s just two people on the project—people all over the building are working with us.
The ID Labs studio is known throughout Pittsburgh and beyond as a popular hub where a lot of real hip-hop work is getting putting in. What has ID meant to your career?
ID Labs is big for me. When I first started, my dad was on some, “If you gonna do music, learn how to do that shit.” I learned how to use Fruity Loops and he bought me a mix and mash board. At 15, I knew about studios and engineering, so I knew how I wanted my stuff to sound. I came here and we hit it off. I liked how it sounded. I liked how quick we worked. I would come in, pay them, then do my jams. They would hear me and think, This dude’s really good, so they started letting me come for free. This led to me getting my deal. So if it wasn’t for ID Labs, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing. I don’t feel comfortable in no other studio. This is home. And the artists who come through here, we all influence each others’ styles. The Lab has brought together a lot of people who normally couldn’t be able to be in the same room or same club together four or five years ago. Now all these same cats are makin’ music together and trying to be in each others’ videos. Cats who was usually beefin’ is now all tryin’ to get this money. And then cats who’s really doing it with the music, it’s making it realistic to these cats. Like, we can really do this shit. They like, “Wiz was at the Lab every day, and he still come to the Lab every day and he got a deal.” It’s bringin’ more people together. Before we didn’t have nothing to look up to ’cause cats was only gangbangin’ and selling dope.