Prince of the City:
Pittsburgh’s Rapper, Wiz Khalifa

November 23, 2007

Elyssa Goodman

“Heavy Hustler” is what rapper Wiz Khalifa’s newest tattoo, on his right hand, reads. It is currently one of 15. Khalifa wanted 20 by the time the year was finished but having five extra done in December seemed doubtful, according to the rapper. 20. Possibly one for each year of his life.

At 20 years old, Pittsburgh rapper Wiz Khalifa has already been profiled in publications like Rolling Stone and XXL. Khalifa has been praised for his lyrical skill, and forms his songs differently than most rappers do. Instead of writing lyrics then forming beats behind them, he is first inspired by mixed beats, then writes his raps, using the beats as a backbone to the stories he tells. Many of Khalifa’s songs are inspired by the city of Pittsburgh. One example of this is his song “Pittsburgh Sound,” often played on Pittsburgh Hip-Hop radio station WAMO. The music video for “Pittsburgh Sound” has also recently aired on the music network FUSE.

Being a rising star at 20 must mean that Khalifa started early, and he certainly did. “I thought I was a rapper when I was nine,” says Khalifa, “[I wrote about] girls, the future, how hard I thought I was. I was thirteen when I put my first album together. I mixed the beats, I wrote.” Around this age he chose his name, Wiz Khalifa. ‘Wiz’ was at one time ‘Wisdom’ after a rap name his uncle made up, meaning ‘Knowledge.’ ‘Khalifa’ means ‘Successor’ in Islam. Wisdom Khalifa became Wiz Khalifa, and it caught on.

Khalifa’s family has been a large part of his success so far. “My family’s always been supportive. They go crazy; they love it. They used to tell me I was special, that I could do whatever,” and Khalifa has without listened to their words of encouragement.

Growing up listening to Hip-Hop greats like Biggie Smalls, Jay-Z, Nas, Snoop Dogg, and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony influenced his sound, but Khalifa was also influenced by music his parents listened to, like Anita Baker, Otis Redding, Journey, and Rod Stewart. “My music was always that diverse. You can hear it in me, the Journey, the Rod Stewart.” Beats vary from heavy and pulsating to smooth and danceable. Words intricately wrap themselves around each beat, thumping and energetic. Khalifa’s lyrics are aggressive, proud, and brutally honest, but still personal. Without a doubt, these qualities make his work accessible for a wide variety of audiences, further contributing to his rising star status.

Many have highlighted Khalifa as the force that will invigorate Pittsburgh’s Rap and Hip-Hop scene, not usually noted for its breadth. There are several predominant area-specific genres for Rap and Hip-Hop, including West Coast (California), East Coast, South, and Midwest. Pittsburgh, however, doesn’t fall into any of these categories, and is thus overlooked. There is a burgeoning, yet still small, scene in Pittsburgh. Wiz Khalifa is the breakout star, but it doesn’t phase him: “Everybody contributes to [the Pittsburgh scene] by going hard and supporting it. I feel like I have a spot to maintain. I’m more honored than anything. It makes me want to go harder.”

Khalifa’s work ethic is one which sets him apart from other rappers today, and says it is “something I’m most proud of.” He spends a great deal of his time in the studio, I.D. Labs in Lawrenceville, not because he has to, but because he wants to. “I don’t want to run out of anything ahead of my game, and I gotta stay ahead of the competition.”

Some would say that staying in Pittsburgh would be a kind of musical suicide because of its supposed lack of national scene or influence, but Khalifa disagrees. “This is what I know, it’s a home base. It’s more important to stay in Pittsburgh. Some people hate, but there’s more love than anything.” If Khalifa left, he’d be abandoning the place where he grew up, the place that gave him his inspiration and helped him become nationally recognized. With the recognition Khalifa has been receiving, it’s possible the Pittsburgh scene could gain national acknowledgement in the future. Khalifa does his part to make this happen by including other Pittsburgh rappers on his albums and mix tapes. “I try to collab [collaborate] with at least two or three artists from Pittsburgh. As artists, we can’t get nowhere if we don’t support each other.” On his new mixtape, Prince of the City 2, released November 20, Wiz Khalifa has collaborated with Pittsburgh rappers Lavish, Kev tha Hustla, and S. Money.

One of the things Khalifa enjoys most about being a rapper is playing live shows. He calls himself “an entertainer, comfortable in front of large crowds. That’s why I put my time into it. It comes from in here [points to heart]. Every show, if it’s five or five million [people], I do it exactly the same.” The Cut’s own Sean McMillan had the opportunity to see Wiz Khalifa in concert at Duquesne University. “It was like he turned on a switch” on the formerly dead crowd, he said.

Khalifa is currently working in conjunction with Pittsburgh’s own Rostrum Records and Warner Bros. Records, is excited to release a new single in March, “Say Yeah.” By this summer, he hopes to have both the single and a video out. “It just takes patience,” he says.

For those aspiring to greatness, Khalifa offers the following advice: “Always go hard. Don’t let anybody take you more seriously than you take yourself. If it’s what you really want to do, go hard. If you go half-ass, you’re gonna get half-ass. If you go 110%, you’re gonna get 110%.” And after giving 110%, Wiz Khalifa, Pittsburgh’s self-proclaimed ‘Prince of the City’ has earned his royal title.

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