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Up In Smoke 

Wiz Khalifa's Rise To The Top

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A 23 year old could definitely be doing worse for himself. When Wiz Khalifa, real name Cameron Thomaz, was labeled one of XXL magazine's "Freshman 10" in March of '10, he already had two albums under his belt. A year ago, Wiz was just the skinny, tatted-up kid poking his head above the crowd with a smile on his face. These days, he's the one that girls are grabbing at as he gets off the stage – marked for stardom.

The man on the other end of the phone is laid back, self-assured. Despite the numerous conversations he's had that day and the questions he answers on a daily basis, Wiz is grateful. A centerpiece for what hip-hop is becoming, Wiz is changing the face of the rapper. With his spontaneous gold streak in his hair and too many tattoos to count, he'd seem more suited with a skateboard in his hand and punk music in the background. But here he is – mic in hand and a sea of people chanting every word to his songs.

Originally from North Dakota, Wiz traveled everywhere from Japan to London before setting in Pittsburgh, Penn. It was there that he'd cultivate his love for music before eventually turning to hip-hop as his own artistic outlet.

"I listened to everything growing up. Just naturally I was into music and then that kinda developed into me wanting to make my own," says Wiz.

In 2006, Wiz put out his first album, Show and Prove, with Warner Bros. Immediately he was labeled as a breakout artist, someone to watch out for in the coming months. Ending his relationship with Warner Bros. in mid '09, Wiz continued to release mixtapes and have featured slots until he released his next album, Deal or No Deal.

Then came "Black and Yellow." Hitting the foundation of America like a hurricane, "Black and Yellow" quickly skyrocketed to number one on Billboard and could be heard on every iPod and car stereo in the states. Soon, copycats followed. Every city needed their own "Black and Yellow." The song became an anthem for Pittsburgh and almost, just almost, could have been seen as somewhat of an eye for the future. Because, after all, did Wiz know the Steelers were going to the Super Bowl?

"I'm really flattered by all the versions. I didn't expect it to blow up as quickly as it did but it was a good thing for sure," he says of the singles' success.

In devoting a song to the place that gave Wiz an outlet to express his love of music was possibly one of the smartest things an artist could do – now, he's not only endeared by his city, but the entire world.

"In Pittsburgh, that's one of the places that I learned the scene and became a part of the scene," says Wiz. "Everywhere else was just fans of music everywhere, people like different stuff. Of course they support different music down south. Overseas is a mash of everything, but pretty much all of my inspiration for music came from Pittsburgh."

His first album with Atlantic records came out yesterday. Rolling Papers, going along with his constant theme of marijuana, features Curren$y, Too $hort and Chevy Woods, a rapper from his hometown. Having worked with Snoop Dogg and a plethora of other artists, has Wiz worked with everyone he's desired to collaborate with?

"I pretty much worked with everybody that I was dreaming with. Anybody else it would just be fun and it'd be really cool," he says.

In keeping with tradition, Wiz says he plans on keeping the marijuana undercurrents on his new album.

"I'm definitely still gonna keep it consistent," says Wiz of the albums green thematic element. "But I'm gonna switch it up a lot. The album Rolling Papers isn't just about weed, it's not just a whole pot album. It's a lot about my experiences as an artist and businessperson in the game, so I'll just take people through that."

Since Wiz's affinity for weed is a well-known fact at this point, some may wonder if the fear of the consequences is ever there. Last winter, Wiz was arrested in Carolina for marijuana trafficking when 60 grams was found in his tour bus. He later posted bail.

"I've been ... you deal with those repercussion whether you're a rapper and you rap about it or are a regular person and choose to do it. It's a choice that we make just in general. So I live with that every day," he explains.

Despite setbacks and pitfalls, Wiz continues to receive adoration from fans. And while many may see last November's legal battles as the lowest of the low in terms of a career's lifespan, Wiz sees it differently.

"I don't really feel like I've ever had a lowest point in my career – it all goes into building towards the future. This point in my career might seem like my highest but I still have a lot of stuff to do that I can do and I will do and I just want to make my career, take it to the next level." | RDW

Wiz Khalifa • 4/4, 6:30 p.m. • EMU Convocation Center • 799 North Hewitt Rd., Ypsilanti • 734.487.5386 • ticketmaster.com • $20-$30

Wiz Khalifa's Rise To The Top
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