Wiz KhalifaDate of Interview: 03/01/2011

Wiz Khalifa is a Pittsburgh emcee that is determined to make an impact on the hip-hop scene. Not only does he want to be a game-changer on the music side of the equation, but he plans to influence the overall culture, too. After releasing nine mixtapes, his agenda is off to a great start – following the massive success of “Black and Yellow,” a #1 hit on Billboard’s Hot 100 and the “unofficial” anthem of the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers.

On March 29, 2011, Wiz Khalifa is set to release his major-label debut, Rolling Papers (via Atlantic Records), which follows two independent efforts (via Rostrum Records): 2006’s Show and Prove and 2009’s Deal or No Deal.  In the midst of a promotional campaign for Rolling Papers, Wiz Khalifa managed to squeeze some time out his busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry – reflecting on his love for hip-hop, the importance of mixtapes, and the support of his mentor, Eric “E. Dan” Dan.

Clayton Perry: Although many mainstream music lovers were introduced to you via “Black and Yellow,” we both know that your career was anything but an overnight success. What are some of the early challenges and obstacles that you are proud to say you have overcome?

Wiz Khalifa: Well, you know, everything is added onto where I’m at right now; all that I’ve been through as far as other labels or situations. And it wasn’t anything bad. It’s just what was necessary for me as an artist to go through to learn how to work for myself and how to do for myself and to get to where I am at this point today. Mainly just the work that I’ve been through and the different things that I’ve been through have just made me smarter, and it really didn’t affect me in a negative way, but more just in a positive way.

Clayton Perry: Four years after the release of your debut album, Show and Prove, what exactly do you want to “show and prove” to the world?

Wiz Khalifa: I really just want to show them the extent that my music goes. A lot of people might just get to the surface of it. But anybody who is interested enough to try to find out exactly what I do and understand why my fans are as serious as they are, I invite them to fully be a part of the whole movement and experience it and have as much fun as everybody’s been having.

Clayton Perry: At what point did you realize that music was going to be the center of your personal and professional lives?

Wiz Khalifa: Really, around the time when I was getting ready to sign my first deal, I was getting songs on the radio, and I was doing a lot of things, as far as my independent albums and stuff like that. That’s when I figured that’s what I was in the business of doing. And then when I started making it work for myself more and more—recently in the past couple of years—to seeing it come fully, and then not only being in the underground game, but being able to move up and do the same things on a mainstream level gave me that confidence as well.

Clayton Perry: As the latest addition to the roster of Atlantic Records, why was this label the best fit for you – considering the fact that you have previously released material? And in what ways is your Atlantic experience different from your Warner Brothers experience?

Wiz Khalifa: Well, I feel like Atlantic was the best for me just because they understand me as an artist.  They understand my movement and how I’m going to work and how I’m going achieve these things that they want to see me do. It’s really important to have that relationship and that trust with your label where they don’t feel like they have to do everything for you, and it’s still going to come out right. You know, just being in that situation and blessed with those people around me, it really made me confident in them and what they would be able to do for my career.

Clayton Perry: As a big proponent of mentorship, I want to extend the comment that you made about being “blessed” with the people around you. As you moved along through the years, is there a particular person that you looked up to as a mentor – in your personal or professional life – that you credit for helping you make your way through the music business?

Wiz Khalifa: Definitely, [Eric] “E. Dan” [Dan] ,who I’ve worked with always. He’s [the owner and chief engineer of I.D. Labs] and he produced a lot of the records on my new album. He took me in, early in the game, when I was like fifteen or sixteen years, and he let me record at the studio for free and really let me build my sound. That’s where I met my first manager and the CEO of my independent label that I’ve signed to still. So just to work with “E. Dan” and learn how to put songs together and rapping over the quality of beats that he was giving me and making for me. Just based off of him thinking that I was a talented individual, just doing that. And I still mess with him practically every day. I would say he’s my main mentor.

Clayton Perry: As you’ve built your sound over the years, how would you describe your sound to someone on the street, who may be hearing your work for the very first time?

Wiz Khalifa: My sound is really versatile. I bring a lot of different elements into my music. It’s still rap music, and a lot of people classify it as different types of rap, but we’re influenced by West Coast music, East Coast music, Downtown music and even other genres of music in general. So when you put all that together, along with my lyricism and my individual personality, it makes a unique blend of music. And the real fun of it, that’s what a lot of people are getting interested in.

Clayton Perry: Even though you have all of these influences, when you look at the community where you staked your claim to fame, in what ways has Pittsburgh not only inspired you, but what elements do you see in your music that probably wouldn’t be there had you not been raised in the Pittsburgh area?

Wiz Khalifa: Well, it’s a combination of things, but the beats that I pick, the drums are heavy in the melodies.

Clayton Perry: Over the years, you have toured extensively with Yelawolf: a 20-date trek for the “Deal Or No Deal” Tour, in addition to the 50 cities on the “Waken Baken” Tour. How did the two of you initially meet?

Wiz Khalifa: That’s just my man, you know? We linked up early in the day. And just in the habit of doing what I was doing, I was linking up with other young artists. Well, not necessarily younger artists, but like new artists, that people don’t really know about. So we really came up together and were trying to break each other into the game, and share each other’s fan base. When I heard about Yelawolf, and I got into his music and everything, it was just kind of a definite thing. Then we went on the road and everything was perfect.

Clayton Perry: With nine mixtapes under your belt, in what ways has the mixtape game changed – for better or for worse – since you first started? And on a side note, as you prepare for an album, what are the benefits of releasing several mixtapes before an official album release?

Wiz Khalifa: The mixtape thing has worked for me perfectly. It’s been a way for me to spread my sound, build my sound and have fans that have grown with me for years and years and know what to expect before they even actually purchase an album. I think that’s really important, just to give people something so they can find out whether they want to support it or not first. Having a bunch of mixtapes for me has been nothing but a positive. There hasn’t been any negative backlash from it because the quality that I put into my mixtapes makes people want more and more. They’re cool with it, and then they want the next project; as opposed to me making a mixtape and then everything I do after that sucks. It makes for more and more, makes me work harder and be more creative. Then going into the album, you get to see the difference between me as a mixtape artist and then me as an album artist. It’s like a growth for all of us, together. It just makes everything more interesting.

Clayton Perry: Looking forward, what expectations have you set upon yourself for Rolling Papers, not necessarily in terms of sales, but in terms of people’s perception and reaction to it?

Wiz Khalifa: This album means a lot to me. So, as far as expectations, of course I want it to sell good and I want people to receive it well, but also I just want people to know that it’s all about growth and development. So, as long as people get to hear it, and see where I’ve come from and get an idea of where I’m going, I feel like “mission accomplished.”

Clayton Perry: When you look back on the recording experience, is there a particular memory or song that shines bright?

Wiz Khalifa: “The Race.” It’s a really important song to me. It’s just a real good song, and the concept is tight. “E. Dan” produced the beat, and it’s crazy! When I think about the way it all came together and just the stuff I’m just talking about there – it’s real uplifting.

Clayton Perry: With that in mind, I feel compelled to ask you one last question: “When did you first fall in love with hip-hop?”

Wiz Khalifa: I always listened to it, but it became a part of my lifestyle when I was like thirteen or fourteen. I was listening to a lot of older hip-hop music, like early nineties stuff that I was too young to listen to at that time. I was listening to a lot of Wu-Tang and a lot of Mobb Deep and Onyx and stuff like that. And even just more like lyrical rap like Pharoahe Monch  and Talib Kweli and stuff like that. And you know, that really has built up me wanting to be like a real rapper. Then I got into the Diplomats and Cam’ron and stuff like that, and that just made me want to swag out, and live the life. And I was always into Snoop and things like that. So it’s kind of built on top of each other. My teenage years, I was always rapping at the time, too.

Clayton Perry: KRS-One is well-known for stating that hip-hop is not just music. It’s a culture. Where would you like to see hip-hop grow and evolve from here?

Wiz Khalifa: I just really want people to understand the lifestyles of the people and get them to understand it more and more. And I just want people to have more fun with the music aspect of it. People who are really just musicians and more creative individuals, because I think for a minute, like the “street cred” thing became more than important than actual talent and music. For a while, it has been more about how tough you were and how much money you had, and it really wasn’t about the music. I think it’s going back now where the fans really want to hear talented people make good music.

For more information on Wiz Khalifa, visit his official website: http://www.wizkhalifa.com


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