Published Oct 25, 2010Pittsburgh rapper Wiz Khalifa (Cameron Jibril Thomaz) could be a social media guru in another life. His eighth career mixtape, Kush and Orange Juice — a reference to a particularly popular, potent and frosty-looking strain of weed — hit trending topic status on Twitter earlier this year, speaking to the popularity of his brand of every-kid rap, and the social networking site as a marketing tool. Already five years into his music career, the 23-year-old is a near-vet of the rap game despite no formal studio debut album (it's due on Atlantic in early 2011). And, wise beyond his years, Wiz — currently on his first headlining tour with rappers Yelawolf and Curren$y — understands that being hands-on is what'll build his following.
Is this your first time in Canada? How do you like it here?
This is my second time in Canada. I was here in August of last year, but I wasn't performing. I was just chilling. I like it, it's cool. There needs to be more sunlight, I need the sun on me. It's cloudy in Pittsburgh. We were in Ottawa last night. The crowd was real good. It was raining, but it was sold out so it was all good.
You've been working hard for the duration of your career, and have been pretty hands-on. Why is that important to you?
I just feel like that's the best way to be. For some artists, their careers work out if they have somebody who knows them and is good at getting what they need done. But me, I feel like I need to do everything. I mean I have great people around me who, when I have an idea, just get completely behind it and do what we have to do to make it happen. But I feel like that, for me, the best way is to just know everything that's going on; from the visuals, to the merch… just everything.
So, conceptually, is everything laid out — from songs to videos — ahead of time?
Usually I work on a project at a time. So I have a project in mind and a theme in mind for it and then I'll do the music and we'll base everything else on that. Everything sort of builds from there and becomes a lifestyle for me.
What was your role in making Kush and Orange Juice a trending topic on Twitter?
All I did was drop the tape. I told people [on Twitter] for a couple of months that the tape was coming out. Everybody was looking for it, and they had even made a website called Where Is Kush And OJ? When it was really close to being ready, people would send pictures [via Twitter] of kush and some orange juice, a joint rolled with some Simply Orange Juice. [Laughs] So when I saw that, I was like, "Yeah, we should really play off of that." I didn't demand for it to be a trending topic, I was just talking about the tape coming out. And the day before it came out it started trending, and the day I dropped it, it just went crazy.
Does that give you any ideas for how to promote your next project?
It lets me know that the next project I drop, people might go crazy over it too, whether it's another mix tape or my album. I think people, when they receive one project that well, they're ready to see what's next and you've pretty much got them hooked. So now, I've just got to keep following up, and doing what I do.
Twitter and social media has been good to you, but what do you hate about it?
It's real personal, but sometimes it's too personal and people get a little bit confused. But it's cool, I don't hate that, it just comes with the game. It's has a more positive effect than negative.
How does it feel to be headlining a tour without a studio debut? What do you like about touring?
It feels good. It feels like what I'm supposed to be doing, know what I'm saying? I've just got to keep it up. I like having something to do every day. I always have to occupy myself 24 hours a day. When I'm not touring, I'm always at the studio. I sleep in the studio because I need to be occupied. And now I have my studio on the bus, so I'm getting twice the work done.
The stuff you're recording from your bus, is that for the album? Or is that finished and you're working on another mixtape?
I might drop another mixtape. It could happen just because I record so much. But my main focus is the album. I pretty much got the whole album recorded. Eighty to 90 percent of the album is done, so now it's just a matter of going back and tightening things up. As far as the music, it's consistent but it's "bigger" music. It's what you would expect from an album. The mixtape is more fun and free, more every day. The album is about making a statement, so I went in and talked about some things — I mean, it's still the same stuff, but I talked about it in a different way. I got a bit more personal.
What's your statement?
Just that I'm tight. [Laughs] I mean, I'm not trying to prove too much, just that I'm tight.
You were previously trying to release a debut under Warner, but now you've moved to Atlantic. What's different about working and recording for Atlantic?
Before it was all on me, I was doing everything myself at home that we were doing with Warner and it kind of got a little mixed up. At Atlantic, I make sure that I can still work on my own because that's where I feel like my best product comes from. But when I work and I bring it to them and they understand that and they help facilitate that over there. They see and they know my consistency because they hear the songs that I come through with.
What's your point of difference when it comes to figuring out you and your peers?
I don't know. I just do what I do, and people grasp it. I think I'm completely comfortable with myself. I'm me, I'm my personality. I think that's what wins for me and it's what people gravitate toward.
You've come up in a changing time for rap. Is it harder or easier to make it in the rap game?
It's pretty much the same. The game's still the same — you've got to work really hard. It's just different kind of work that you have to put it in. For example, every artist has a Twitter account and even if they don't know how to use computers or their phone that well, or they can't spell that well, their label want them on Twitter. There are certain things that you have to do as an artist. You have to be at least a little bit hands on. And there are a lot of possibilities and a lot of different situations, but if you don't stay consistent then it won't work. That's what worked for me, because I was releasing material back then and I'm releasing material now. I'm always releasing material, even if my buzz wears off and if I'm not the hot guy any more, I'm still going to be entertaining my audience.
Do you have a long-term goal in mind for your career?
I want to do everything. I don't really put a cap on what I can do. I've got a good publishing deal so they're gonna be, like, hooking me up with crazy shit!
Any crazy stories from the tour so far?
My cousin got drunk and woke up in the hospital! It was the second day of the tour and he got so drunk because he was trying to take shots with me. I take shots; he be mixing drinks and shit. Anyway, I'm performing and then in the middle of my show I just noticed he was gone. Afterward, I came back to the bus and they told me they took him to the hospital. He wasn't sick or anything, they just thought he was dead. We're his homies and we know how he do, but they got scared. He just woke up and ran and came back to the tour bus. He was like, "Man, I was in the hospital, man!" He didn't know what was going on at all. [Laughs]