In 2007, Mass Appeal profiled a few upcoming rappers that had the potential to make major moves, in an article we called “Next of Kin.” As we were flipping through our stash of old Mass Appeal mags, we noticed we had profiled a young man from the city of Pittsburgh who went by the name of Wiz Khalifa. Here’s his story.
Welcome to the Steel City. The first thing you might notice about Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is, well…there’s not really any steel here. Coaxial cables, prestigious universities and coleslaw sandwiches perhaps, but the former industrial powerhouse’s population was soldered in half after steel’s mass exodus of the ’70s and ’80s. “If you’re in Pittsburgh, you’re usually from Pittsburgh,” says rapper Wiz Khalifa, who, at only 19, is on his way to becoming the 412’s most prominent voice since Andy Warhol. “Not a lot of out-of-towners come here. Everybody know everybody.”
As the first local to land a coveted spot in regular rotation on the city’s commercial hip hop station, WAMO, everybody knows Wiz. But getting “Damn Thing,” the first single from his album Show & Prove out to the people, was no easy feat in a city like this. Built on the intersection of three rivers, Pittsburgh is segregated into five sections, where fiercely cultural communities litter the surrounding hills. “Being from Pittsburgh, you have to make music to please every ’hood,” Wiz says of the city’s diverse tastes. “Wilkinsburg and Homewood are the real Southern-driven areas. When Master P was real big, you would think you was down in Louisiana. We had to learn to mix it up so everyone could get down with it.”
Wiz’s jewel-laced flow is certainly connected to the East Coast lyricist tradition, but his experiences as a child opened up a whole new world. While the man born Cameron Thomaz always considered Pittsburgh his home base, he grew up moving around the globe with his military family, spending time everywhere from Japan to Georgia. While staying in Oklahoma at the age of 13, his father introduced him to some local musicians who took Wiz (then known as “Wizdom”) into their studio. Soon he was producing his own beats and pressing up his first album, Words Of Wizdom, in 2001. When he moved back to Pittsburgh permanently a year later, his first instinct was to jump back into the studio.
He found a home at ID Labs, a local studio co-owned by E. Dan of famed local hip-hop group Strict Flow. While Wiz and his uncle Knowledge (then recording as a duo called Blackout) recorded their 2004 album Neighborhood Watch, E. Dan became impressed with the young MC’s work ethic. He gave him free studio time and encouraged him to focus on solo material, introducing him to Strict Flow’s Chad, who became his manager and landed him a deal with budding local indie label Rostrum Records.
After blasting off with his Big Mike-hosted mixtape Prince of the City, Rostrum released Show and Prove to rave reviews. “I try to put a message in my music without preaching to people too much,” Wiz says confidently. His second single “Pittsburgh Sound” is an ironic one, since Wiz’s swagger sounds equally assured over screwed-up Southern bounce, East Coast boom bap and lush ’70s samples. The city’s budding scene might not have forged it’s own path yet, but if anybody can find Pittsburgh’s sound, it’s Wiz.Words by Brendan Frederick
There’s no denying the stardom Wiz Khalifa has achieved since 2007. He’s developed a cult-like following, selling out shows from Toronto to Tokyo. Building a brand and movement around his crew Taylor Gang, Wiz has been to help other upcoming artists, like Mac Miller, achieve mainstream success.
You can catch Wiz headlining the “Under the Influence of Music” tour this summer with Harlem’s A$AP Rocky. They’ll be joined by the likes of B.o.B., Trinidad Jame$, Joey Bada$$ & Pro Era, Berner, Chevy Woods and Smoke DZA. Get the info on tickets and tour dates here.