We’ve Got A File On You: Wiz Khalifa
We’ve Got A File On You features interviews in which artists share the stories behind the extracurricular activities that dot their careers: acting gigs, guest appearances, random internet ephemera, etc.
Since dropping his breakout, multi-platinum selling album Rolling Papers in 2011, Wiz Khalifa has been one of the industry’s most influential and consistent hip-hop artists. The Pittsburgh product has dropped projects nearly every year since 2006 and, in that time, has leveraged his genre-fluid sound and magnetic charisma to become one of the biggest personalities in music.
Before skyrocketing to rap superstardom with “Black And Yellow” and mega hit “See You Again,” the rapper, born Cameron Thomaz, was a freshly unsigned artist in 2008 who was forced to take his career into his own hands after a short stint at Warner Bros Records. He shifted his focus, dropping mixtapes like Deal Or No Deal and the wake-n-bake classic Kush & Orange Juice as “albums” and building his fanbase online by uploading YouTube clips of him freestyling, smoking pot, and performing on stage.
From there, Wiz drew in millions with his infectious laugh and genre-hopping hits like “The Thrill,” “We Dem Boyz,” “Work Hard, Play Hard” and other records, elevating him to legendary rap status. Along with his music success, the “Bake Sale” artist has taken up acting roles in the Apple TV+ series Dickinson, FOX’s animated comedy show Duncanville, and the upcoming film Spinning Gold, in which he’ll play George Clinton in a biopic about Casablanca Records head Neil Bogart.
Even as he’s evolved as an entertainer and business man, Wiz has continued to produce projects with long-time collaborators and Taylor Gang affiliates like Cardo and Sledgren on Wiz Got Wings and this year’s Stoner’s Night with Juicy J. Adding to his legacy, Wiz is set to release Multiverse on Friday, his third project of 2022 and first full-length album in four years.
On the new album, the 34-year-old artist teamed up with producers including Hitmaka and Scott Storch to craft a project that pulls you into a cosmic musical experience. Singles like “Bad Ass Bitches,” and “Iced Out Necklace” showcase Wiz’s ear for club and trap anthems, while “Memory Lane” delves into the artist’s often forgotten degree of introspection. As with his past work, Wiz went in with the intent to bring his artistic vision to life and have as much fun as possible while doing it. Ahead of Multiverse’s arrival, we chopped it up with Wiz about some of his biggest musical highlights, funniest soundbites, the inspiration behind his new album, and a few weed tales along the way.
Multiverse and Vinyl Verse (2022)
What was the idea going into the new album, Multiverse, and how was the creative flow this go around?
It was to make the best music possible and to have fun and try to come up with something I haven’t done before, but also to really get ideas out that I’ve been having for a minute. The album kind of took shape on its own, with me just trying to create different moments for myself, whether it be a fun and upbeat moment like “Iced Out Necklace” or a club moment like “Bad Ass Bitches” or, you know, more serious or soulful moments or segues into things that lyrically I can do. But musically it’s really cool and it kind of takes you on a journey. That was the idea behind it, just to make something that gives people a chance to sit down and really enjoy some shit.
You worked with Hitmaka a good deal on this project. How did the studio sessions and creative process differ from your past albums?
We’ve made songs like “Something New” and “Letterman” and a couple of singles, but we haven’t really had a chance to go in and make our own style of how we collaborate. That’s my main thing: I love working with talented people and I love developing our own pattern and our own formula, and that’s what I feel like we had a chance to do on this one. We set aside songs that might work for other people or might be cool for other people, but we made them really cater them to me and how I work sonically and the vision I want to get out there. I don’t think we had a chance to do that until the work that we did on this album.
“Wizzlemania” has been built up around this album. Tell me, what does a day in “Wizzlemania” look or feel like?
“Wizzlemania” is when the whole world understands what’s going on in my mind, and it comes out in different forms. It reminds you of what a high caliber artist looks like and what you want to expect from yourself or the work you see from other people. It just redefines what that greatness is. It redefines style, it redefines fun, it redefines freedom. A lot of people find themselves through Wizzlemania, and it’s a fun time the entire time for everybody.
How do you feel the new album will add to your legacy?
As an artist, it shows a lot of growth — things that people might know about me or they might not. It gives me an opportunity to touch on a lot of different subjects and talk about things in different ways, but still get the same respect or reaction. And it shows a lot of freedom as far as taking risks, designing things the way I see them fit, and also not going straight towards a trend or what they see as popular, but to create something else and give people the option to dive into it.
Along with the new album, you and Logic are set to co-headline the summer tour, Vinyl Verse. I didn’t know this until recently, but after all the collaborations you two have done over the years, you didn’t actually meet in person until recently.
It was good to meet him finally in person. He’s super cool online and with the music, so any interaction that I had with him is dope. But it’s not very normal to have multi-platinum selling songs with somebody and never meet them, but that’s the reason it makes sense to go on tour. Clearly our fanbases really support each other hand in hand, whether its records, making the numbers do what they do, or even just the message.
It’s good to just have that common ground, and with me and him, we’re both at that point where we’re used to what we’ve done for the game. But we’re bringing it to the next level and opening everything up for people to do things great in the next 10 or 15 years. So, if that takes us finally coming together and hitting that stage, then that’s what we’re ready to do.
Rolling Papers (2011)
A lot of your fans look back to Rolling Papers as your magnum opus. Many of them were introduced to you through that project and it clearly had a big impact on your career. A year removed from its 10-year anniversary, could you tell me what that album means to you?
It’s a really special album for me. I had my first #1 on that album, and I think it was before streaming had come into play, so I’m pretty sure there’s a plaque in one of my rooms that had four or five of the first singles that I dropped on that album that all went multi-platinum like instantly. For me it was like, “Damn, alright. I guess we’re doing big things.” It kind of solidified me as one of those guys who is going to do bigger things in this game than just come in and make a song and go away. It kind of put me up there in my own [mind] and my expectations were huge.
You mess with Wiz and you get this certain type of look that goes with it, and it helped turn me into an international artist as well. I did a lot of collabs at the time and features that gave me an opportunity to show my skill, compete on a high level, and gain that fanbase, too. It definitely opened up a lot for me, and I had put in a lot of work all the way up to that point just with mixtapes, being on the road, and building the brand of Taylor Gang, so it was perfect timing. I felt like I was ready to carry that on as opposed to it just hitting me and then having to catch up to it. I was already there mentally.
“See You Again” (2015)
Based on YouTube views, streaming numbers, and other metrics, “See You Again” is your biggest song to date.
That song made me out of this world. Up until that point, I was a regular human being, but then people were looking at me like a “thing.” The amount of weeks that it spent at #1, I think it was like 12 weeks as the #1 record, almost broke history but it’s tied. And then it being one of the most streamed songs on YouTube, I think it fluctuates as the most viewed song ever. You don’t fucking wake up and be like, “Yo, I’m going to have the most viewed song ever in the world,” but it happened to me.
I’m super thankful and grateful for it and the message behind it is one that’s timeless. It helps people get over loss, or helps people heal or helps you grieve. Unfortunately, those situations go on all the time, but to have a song that touches you in that moment and to be the writer of that song that touches you is a really big privilege.
Was it “See You Again” or another song that really gave you that reassurance that you can move and operate in various musical lanes and still make a major record?
Yes, that was always my goal and approach with music. Whether people saw it or not, I wanted to show how multifaceted I am. To display that was always the point where people, I don’t want to say still don’t get, but it’s not as obvious to them as it is for me that I’m not just a rapper. Songs like “See You Again” help that, and there’s plenty of other moments on different albums that I have where I show that.
It’s songs like “The Thrill,” one of my classic flips of a song that was already out, that show that I’m able to mix and mingle and blend in and out of different genres. That’s something I’ve always showed throughout my whole career. It’s something that I’m happy and super proud to be able to do and still be authentic and be looked at as somebody who makes great music, and not just in one pocket or style of music, I can exist all over the place.
“See You Again” features Charlie Puth. He seems like an interesting guy.
Yes, he’s a cool dude. I don’t want to ruin his image or anything like that, but I just remember getting him really stoned. We were practicing “See You Again” and I was drinking lemonade with weed infused in it, and he fucking loved it. He’s really talented on the piano and coming up with grooves. And this fool got high and just came up with the smoothest little groove about the weed, and I was like, “Man, you need to smoke more.” Those were some fun times of him just being like real innocent and cool, but also open to the experience. That’s what I always remember.
Mac & Devin Go To High School (2012)
How was the filming experience?
That was crazy because I literally just moved out to LA like a week before we started shooting, and [Snoop Dogg] was so attached to me like, “We need to shoot a movie, we need to do this and do that,” and we literally hit the ground running. The way that Mac and Devin developed their relationship in the movie was really how me and Snoop developed our relationship in real life. I was getting to know him as a person on set.
Every day I was hanging out with this kid, we were recording the album afterwards so we would film all day and then we would go to the house and record all night. I was learning his patterns, how to communicate with him and what to expect and what not to expect. It was fun to start off kind of nervous and then by the middle and end of the movie, I didn’t feel like I could do anything wrong. I felt like I really knew him.
What stuck out to me was just how caring and generous Snoop is. Me being there for the first time, I didn’t know what to expect but he was really hands on and making sure my costume looked good and my lines matched me and who I was trying to portray. I hadn’t really dealt with that from somebody who was really in the game. I was more used to people being standoffish and not really trying to help other than to embarrass, but I saw that he genuinely cared about seeing me look good in the movie too.
That shit really fucked me up. I’m like, “Damn, Snoop wants to make sure I look good, too.” So, that was a major thing I picked up from that was how nice and how genuine he is and how good he treats people, whether it’s the camera man, the lady bringing the water, or the person holding the script. Every person has a role, and they all need to feel good while they’re doing that role.
Did you learn how to navigate the industry as a rapper and celebrity from Snoop?
Definitely. It’s hard not to learn how to make people feel good from Snoop. I’m genuinely a nice person, so it would be more difficult for me to be an asshole than it would for me to be straight up kind. I’m naturally like that, but when I met Snoop, I look up to the n*gga so much and he’s so much richer and so much cooler than everybody who acts like an asshole and he’s not an asshole. So, that’s not who you have to be. Sometimes you might think just because of people’s reactions or whatever happens like, “OK, I got to be like that because I’m in this position.” But he let me know to be rich, famous, cool, and a real inspiration, you don’t have to be an asshole, you got to be a nice guy. That reassured me that if Snoop is that cool then everybody should be that cool. He set the bar.
The “buff Wiz” pic (2018)
You’ve talked about how going viral is like an art for you. When you posted the video of you shirtless with boxing gloves did you know it would blow up the way it did?
Yes, it was strategic. People love a good magic trick, and for me to have a regular body to just popping up looking buff as hell, that gets a lot of attention. And it got to be shot right. I was in Miami and I had just trained at the Fontainebleau, like outside the hotel, and you know how Miami is, it kind of rains like every five minutes and shit, so it was just a good scene.
It felt like we were filming a movie, so I’m going to go ahead and invite people to it. I hadn’t been really showing too much of my private life. Like, people knew I was in the gym or whatever, but they hadn’t seen the full progress of it. It’s just all about timing. I know my path isn’t so oversaturated to be meaningful, so if I can give you some meaningful content, it’s going to go far. You know what I mean? I think that’s what people can get from me.
They know it means something. I’m not just doing it literally for [Instagram], but the ‘gram loves it or whatever platform that I choose to use. I use it with intent, and that’s the way I feel like I’ve navigated throughout my career.
ATL Freestyle (2008)
You’ve talked about how pivotal of a time 2008 was in your career, as your record deal with Warner Bros was ending. You went back to Pittsburgh and began focusing on showcasing your music and personality on the internet. What inspired that move and what was the early reception like?
The inspiration was that I was signed to Warner Bros in 2007, and by 2008, I didn’t have a record deal anymore. But I learned from being signed over there. Things were a lot different back then. The way they worked radio back then was different, the way they broke a new artist was totally different, everything was structured totally different. So, at that time, they had these things called a flip cam and they really didn’t know what to do with the camera. They were just like, “We’re giving these to every artist and we’re having them document their day,” or whatever. And I’m seeing what the artists are doing and I’m like, “That’s terrible” and “That looks stupid.”
So, I’m like, “Give me a flip cam” and they’re like, “No, you got to be a certain tier of an artist,” and I’m like, “Oh, really? That’s cool.” But I looked the camera up on my computer at the time, and I found out you could buy the camera at Best Buy – it was like $60. I went and bought the camera and then I was like, “Cool. What’s the platform I can upload these videos on?” I didn’t know where else to put them, so I made my YouTube channel and that’s how it all happened.
I bought the camera and the [ATL Freestyle] was literally the first video I recorded and I uploaded. I gave it just a generic name, but I knew that’s where I wanted to build from – doing freestyles, me in the studio, B-roll of me smoking weed, me in the car with the homies, us doing shows. I knew that was my lane as far as content and what I wanted to show the people. And that was just me doing my research and kind of being sensitive to what the labels were trying to do, but in my mind, I really knew how to do the shit and take it over and do it my way.
Was there ever a video you recorded that you made you think, “There’s no way we can drop this on YouTube”?
There’s definitely some footage that I didn’t put out, but I edited everything. I uploaded all the stuff to my computer and then I would chop it up based on what I wanted and what I thought was cool and what I was promoting at the time. A lot of times I was promoting a mixtape or something like that, so I’m playing the songs behind the video and then I got a Sidekick and started having fans hit me up on the email on there. So it was direct contact with the fans and that was like a whole other vibe as well.
I was able to just make videos, talk to [fans] through the videos and through email as well. It was a real interactive thing, but I was in control of all the content all the way up until I started buying bigger cameras and getting different cameramen involved to get the same effect. But I can’t even say there was a lot of stuff that didn’t make it.
When I woke up, I knew what I was going to film to make an episode just so I didn’t get a bunch of bullshit, and then I knew what I wanted to give people too because I know the last video I did. So, I was already mapping it out in my head, and by the end of the day, I had checked everything off and I was able to dump it and create the episode.
The Breakfast Club interview (2018)
Wiz, I think you started something behind The Breakfast Club interview you did back in 2018. You said men have to break their bananas in half before they eat them or they’re sus. I think you were ahead of the “no glizzy” eating wave before it got started.
Yo, that was wild. Even with the shorts, they talk about “hoochie daddy shorts” and all that shit, but who was getting ridiculed for wearing short-shorts? Like come on now. And now it’s a style trend; you embrace that for the whole summer. N*ggas wear short-shorts proudly, but I’m cool with that because as proud as I am, I want everybody to be proud. But at the end of the day, it takes somebody standing up and not being afraid to be themselves.
Conan smoke session (2016)
Another viral moment: You let Conan hit the weed and got him higher than he’s probably ever been.
That was wild. I didn’t even think he was going to hit the weed to be honest. We were kind of just chilling backstage. I thought I was just going to go there to go on the show … but I got him pretty fucked up.
At this point and even earlier, the world kind of placed you in this “approachable, weed-smoking rapper” lane. Was there a moment you thought “I need to be that kind of artist” or was it a lane that you naturally fit within?
It takes a lot of programming for people because they’re used to their thoughts about how it affects people or what their job is or whatever. And through me and through time, I was able to prove that all of [people’s] reservations about weed weren’t really true. And when professionals see me come in and handle myself, I speak really well and I’m really personable. They give me a script to read or something like that, I knock it out. I’m just really knowledgeable about my job and how to do it, and they see me functioning off pot and it just makes everybody so much happier.
It’s definitely a blessing and it’s definitely a privilege. It’s something that I use to my advantage because them seeing me as free and as open as I am, it kind of opens their mind up to the ways it can be used and that you don’t really have to judge or put that same stigma on everybody that smokes pot. There are some people who abuse the privilege, and there are some people who don’t act correctly when it comes to pot bringing everybody together. And them knowing that my motives are pure and genuine, you might fuck around and have a good ass time hanging around me and it just brings it all together.
You also dove headfirst into the shroom business with Mistercap.
I’ve always done my own research with psychedelics. I never knew it was going to be as popular as it is now, but with seeing the shift and how people’s minds change, it’s opening a lot of people up to the possibilities of what they can do. It’s something that’s still developing, and with all the business, medicine and mental health research, we’re going to keep finding new things about it. And the thing about weed and mushrooms is we’re all finding out better and better stuff. I’m just giving it time and just letting it all develop. And like I said, as people’s experiences with it change, there’s not going to be anything that people could tell them that would make them feel that it might not be the right thing or it might not be good for them. It’s just a matter of getting to that point and I’m just being really patient and just distant in the space while it’s here. I’m here to help people have those experiences with it.
You posted a video of you blowing smoke from a “cannagun” in your cousin’s face, but is a “mushgun” possible?
I like a shroom-ray. I feel like mushrooms can be absorbed through skin somehow, so whatever is going to do it, we’re going to make it absorb through your skin with the shroom-ray.
Spinning Gold (2023/2024)
You were cast as George Clinton in Spinning Gold, an upcoming biopic about Casablanca Records founder Neil Bogart. What was filming like?
It was cool as hell doing that. I always take the opportunity to learn, read the room and see how a real production comes together. All the actors are great, all the comedians are great and the writing is amazing. The costumes are crazy. I pick up on all that shit by just having the costume fitting — having them come over to show me what the mood board was for my character. To be able to dress in some funky shit and act a little bit crazy and do what I do is a really good opportunity. And I’m always there to learn, as well as execute and perform.
The thing about acting is that people don’t give a fuck if you’re a rapper, a musician, or popular in your field, you have to come there on time and do your job. And you got to stay there the amount of time that everybody’s there and you really got to work. Nothing is really handed or given, and it’s just different but it’s super fun. And I like being on that end, as well as being a superstar in rap. But I like to build, I like to grow and that’s part of my growth.
Ken Carson and other artists (2022)
You’ve mentioned how you really rock with rapper Ken Carson. What other artists are you excited about?
For me, if I come across your album or mixtape, I’m going to fuck with you if I can listen to the whole project. I like everybody who’s popular. Just some of the clips I hear on IG, like there’s n*ggas from Chicago, there’s n*ggas from New York, there’s n*ggas from Florida, there’s n*ggas from the A, there’s n*ggas from Detroit, there’s n*ggas from the Bay, there’s so many n*ggas, right? Hella of them. But for me, I’d say since the year started, I’ve really been in my own world and I’ve just been listening to things that inspire the type of music I’m going to make. It’s hard to tune everything out, but that’s just where I’m at.
You’ve said you don’t like criticizing younger rap stars looking to ascend in their careers.
I feel like art is up for interpretation, so if I have an opinion on something that doesn’t mean that I’m right or wrong, that’s just my own personal opinion. To criticize somebody to what I think is right or wrong, for me, I just don’t even have that right to do that because a lot of these kids are going to have huge fanbases. They’re going to sell millions of records. They’re going to sell millions of tickets to shows regardless of what me or any other individual might think would be better or worse for them. It’s not really my place to say what’s good or bad, it’s my place to nurture and do what’s right or wrong. I’m more about behavior and how you treat people than what you actually do.
Multiverse is out on 7/29.