While most rap artists fail to break out of their hood, both physically, and materially, Wiz Khalifa, at only 19 years old, has already received worldwide recognition. A self-proclaimed â€œnomadâ€ since he was two years old, Wiz has lived in Europe and Japan, and has traveled extensively. Now having finally settled in Pittsburgh, the press is doing his touring for him. Recently featured in Rolling Stone, XXL, and other large media outlets, Wiz is letting his name do the traveling now, while he remains working in the studio. Riding off the successes of his debut projects Prince of the City, and Show and Prove, nowadays Wiz is looking much more like a King than a Prince.
“If Iâ€™m a star before I even sign a deal, if something happens in the future where I donâ€™t have this major label, I can still get money on my own, just being Wiz Khalifa”
Format: Please explain how you came up with the name Wiz Khalifa.
Wiz Khalifa: Well basically when I first started rapping, well not when I first first started rapping, but when I first started taking it serious, I was about 12-13, and me and my uncles and cousins were all in a group. One of my uncleâ€™s names was Knowledge, and I wanted a name that was similar to his, so I chose the name Wizdom. And heâ€™s Muslim actually, so Khalif is Arabic for successor or leader. So, I was Wizdom Khalifa for some years. When turned about 15 or 16, I dropped the â€œdomâ€ off of Wizdom and just stayed Wiz Khalifa.
Format: You were born in North Dakota, moved to Pittsburgh when you were two years old and have live in Europe and Japan since then. How has that changed your outlook on the world?
Wiz Khalifa: It definitely opened up, broadened my mind, Iâ€™m way more open to things. I look at things differently just because Iâ€™ve experienced different cultures, and just being able to go to those places, adapt to those places, and still be able to come back home, and get the love that I get at home, thatâ€™s good for me too, cuz Pittsburghâ€™s basically been my home base for my whole life. So everywhere I would leave, I would always come back to the Burgh.
“With the material, with what we rhyme, thereâ€™s substance in the music, but the beats and everything are easy to listen to.”
Format: Since you were 16 youâ€™ve been going to the studio and recording at ID labs. How influential has the team at ID been in developing and building your status as an artist?
Wiz Khalifa: Theyâ€™ve been real influential, because, before I teamed up with ID, it was pretty much just raw talent, I was just good on my own; I didnâ€™t have too much guidance. E.Dan, who was one of the first to really recognize my talent, he just really sat down with me, and helped me write better songs in terms of patterns and cadences and melodies. He just turned me from a nice rapper to a songwriter, entertainer. Linking up with Benji and Chad, they just helping me get my business right, showing me the real independent grindinâ€™ and how we can really make some money in this game, so this just helped me out a whole lot.
Format: Your first single â€œDamn Thingâ€ off the street album Show and Prove has a very Southern club oriented sound compared to songs like â€œThrownâ€ or Pittsburgh Soundâ€ that have more of a New York sample based feel, why did you did you chose to go that route?
Wiz Khalifa: Just because I have a well rounded style. I mean my sound canâ€™t be put in a box, East Coast, something something. Being from Pittsburgh, we listen to everything out here so it reflects in the music I make. I could make something like â€œPittsburgh Soundâ€ and make something like â€œDamn Thingâ€ and they both sound like Wiz Khalifa. They appeal to different audiences, itâ€™s just to keep everybody happy is mainly what it is.
Format: Speaking of the song â€œPittsburgh Soundâ€ what is the Pittsburgh sound? How is it any different from what else is going on in hip-hop? How has the city had an influence on your style?
Wiz Khalifa: Just like I was saying itâ€™s a melting pot, itâ€™s a collaboration of all types of music. Thereâ€™s areas in Pittsburgh where all they listen to is Down South stuff, thereâ€™s areas where all they listen to is real conscious rap like Talib Kweli, Common and Wu-Tang, and then thereâ€™s areas where all they listen to is West Coast and East Coast. A lot of the cats that I work with, we tend to bring all that together. With the material, with what we rhyme, thereâ€™s substance in the music, but the beats and everything are easy to listen to.
Format: Most new regions making their mark on the rap scene such as the Bay and Miami have had a movement of their own with a front man for it. What is the Pittsburgh movement and do you see yourself as the leader of the pack?
Wiz Khalifa: Yeah definitely, thereâ€™s definitely a movement. Thereâ€™s a couple of cats that I mess with exclusively from the Burgh, and I feel that they have the potential to not only do what Iâ€™m doing, but bring Pittsburgh along as a whole new movement instead of just me. I donâ€™t want it to be just me, cuz thereâ€™s more hot individuals. I feel happy that Iâ€™m getting exposure and respect for putting Pittsburgh on the map like I am, but Iâ€™d be wrong to say that thereâ€™s not any other cats around here. Thereâ€™s definitely something to watch out for, cuz we got a lot of different stuff.
“Iâ€™m in the studio everyday working on mixtape material, working on album material, just building the archives, for when we finally do get this major deal and decide to break bread.”
Format: At only 19 years old you are already considered somewhat of an accomplished artist. Being in the game at such a young age how do you plan on staying relevant throughout your career?
Wiz Khalifa: I just rap about whatâ€™s real around me and whatâ€™s real to me and as long as I keep it real, I got no choice but to keep doing better. My music comes from what goes on around me or life experiences. So as long as I keep livinâ€™ Iâ€™ma keep writing and keep getting better. And Iâ€™ve surrounded myself with a team that Iâ€™m confident in, and theyâ€™re doing hard work to keep me relevant.
Format: There have been talks about major deals with Island Def Jam and Interscope but you have decided to stay independent for the time being. Why did you make that decision?
Wiz Khalifa: Itâ€™s not like we turned any deals down or anything like that. Weâ€™ve been hearing what theyâ€™re saying and not really getting too much back with them only because weâ€™re trying to build a fan base other than the major labels because if the major label makes you a star, then you depend on the label. If Iâ€™m a star before I even sign a deal, if something happens in the future where I donâ€™t have this major label, I can still get money on my own, just being Wiz Khalifa and being Rostrum Records, and we just feel like itâ€™s more important to start our own thing than be a part of somebody elseâ€™s thing.
Format: A lot of upcoming mixtape artists have trouble making the transition to mainstream success, how do you plan on bridging this gap?
Wiz Khalifa: I never really considered myself a mixtape artist, I just do mixtapes cuz thatâ€™s what the streets like and itâ€™s a part of the game right now. You definitely gotta play by the rules, and cats wanna hear mixtapes. I can do mixtapes but Iâ€™m definitely not a mixtape artist. I wouldnâ€™t say Iâ€™m a mainstream artist either but I have a mainstream sound just because of how I write songs, so the transition is going to be easy for me. I have a lot of new material other than Show and Prove. Iâ€™m in the studio everyday working on mixtape material, working on album material, just building the archives, for when we finally do get this major deal and decide to break bread.
Format: You have been in XXL and Rolling Stone magazine. How does it feel to have received so much media attention at such a young age?
Wiz Khalifa: It feels real good. Itâ€™s cool for me cuz everybody around here, even though Iâ€™m in the magazines and everything, Iâ€™m still in the Burgh everyday. Anybody can catch me, anybody can see me. They crack the magazines, or they see me on MySpace, and they see me on the streets and theyâ€™re real excited. It just makes me happy. It feels good for me because it gives other people to be proud of.
Iâ€™m in the magazines and everything, Iâ€™m still in the Burgh everyday. Anybody can catch me, anybody can see me.
Format: Rap is not known for giving artists second chances and most comeback albums have been unsuccessful. Do you feel pressure to come hard out the gate and make sure youâ€™re not deemed average on first impression?
Wiz Khalifa: Yeah for sure, I feel like every project has its significance, so whatever Iâ€™m working on at the time I just put my all into it. Whatever point Iâ€™m trying to get across, or whatever Iâ€™m trying to do at the time. Prince of the City was more introductory and letting the people know, I was going real hard on that and Show and Prove was substantiating my spot, like Iâ€™m here, make sure you know Iâ€™m here. Iâ€™m just gonna move on from there and keep pounding them out.
Format: In the current state of hip-hop where record sales are drastically decreasing and the Internet is becoming a monster, do you think you can do major numbers, and how have you used the internet to your advantage?
Wiz Khalifa: Yeah, I think I can do major numbers just because I have to have faith and have confidence, but the Internet, itâ€™s definitely been an advantage, because thatâ€™s the place where Iâ€™ve gotten a lot of my publicity, through the MySpace and through allhiphop.com and any magazine or newspaper article Iâ€™ve been in. You can look back up on the internet, or read close. Xxlmag.com, and the blogs and everything, and people downloading my music, a lot more people that have access. Itâ€™s way more exposure; it just makes me seen, the Internet can make you seem bigger than what you are. I like the Internet for that fact.