Wiz Khalifa is flying high, and he’s only getting higher. Earlier this year, the 28-year-old hip-hop musician released his sixth album, Khalifa, a winning combination of storytelling, slick talk, and odes to the plentiful joys of marijuana, laid over a lush bed of stadium-sized beats.
Khalifa, who hails from Pittsburgh, occupies an important place in hip-hop. With his legion of fans and his endless parade of hit singles, he’s one of the genre’s most visible figures, but he also takes care to maintain ties with its underground and to serve as an ambassador for many of rap’s deeply held traditions. He’s recorded tracks with legends like Easy Mo Bee, Max B and Juicy J—who is signed to Khalifa’s Taylor Gang label—and these songs often serve as a young fan’s introduction to such vital artists.
Meanwhile, Khalifa crafts albums and mixtapes that mine a variety of sonic territories, from trap (his Rolling Papers series) to smooth weed-rap (his breakout Kush and Orange Juice) to the pop appeal of his later work. He’s the perfect gateway drug for someone just getting into the genre, and it’s a role that he takes seriously.
Always an ardent supporter of pot, Khalifa is now dipping his toes into the booming legal-weed industry with the launch of Khalifa Kush, his own indica strain, which Wiz claims will knock the socks off even the most ardent of stoners.
We kicked it with Wiz in Los Angeles before he was set to jet off to France, discussing music, marijuana, politics and everything in between.
HT: How much weed are you smoking these days?
Wiz: I smoke pot all day. I wake up and get high. But I’m more like an on-the-low stoner now. I like to get high and be high when I’m places, as opposed to just smoking everywhere like I used to. I prefer indicas—they help me out the most. Some people say they slow you down, but they pick me up.
What’s your preferred method of smoking?
I roll papers. I like bongs, too—don’t get me wrong.
Is hitting a bong a different experience for you?
I mean, you get high off of both bongs and papers. It’s a different type of high, but if you train yourself to be a good bong smoker, then there will be times when the bong rip is very key.
Does marijuana help you creatively?
Weed just kind of helps me slow things down and think about them a little more. When I’m creative, I can be thinking really fast; the ideas just shoot all over the place. But if I’m stoned, I use my imagination to just hold onto that. That’s the main thing.
When did you first start smoking?
I started smoking with my homies. I was just in the studio chilling. I really didn’t get high before that, and then one day it was just like, you know, get high and write a rap.
Who were some early favorite artists to smoke to?
Anything Three 6 Mafia, Project Pat, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. As I got older, I started to smoke to old-school music. I used to smoke to trap shit—like really super-hood music.
Where do you like to smoke?
I usually smoke in the studio, like in the outside room or something like that, or in the lab while I’m recording. I’m just walking around smoking everywhere. At least I could if I wanted to—it’s just that I don’t really feel like it anymore.
If you could get high with anyone, who would it be?
What place on Earth has the best weed?
As somebody who’s seen a lot of different parts of the world, how do you feel the perception of weed differs in various parts of America, or even Canada or Mexico?
People are still scared of it. They don’t really understand weed or how it works or why it should be legalized. So when you see somebody who’s free and open about it, it’s not really as accepted as people think it is.
Do you feel a responsibility to be open about it as a way of changing public perception?
I mean, I don’t really feel a responsibility to do it—it’s just what I do. I’m really good at showing the upside of things, being that I smoke weed and I’m functioning. It kind of gives it a better face, just that right there. And then I can speak to people and say things that can change their minds as well. But just off of looking at me or smelling me, you’re probably going to get freaked out.
What role does marijuana play in your creative relationships?
It’s how we bond! It’s like the first thing we do. It’s like, “Hey, what’s up?”—then I shove a jay in your mouth. I always have the best weed, so when I see my boys, I just give them some of my bomb-ass weed.
Weed is also how you linked up with Berner, the legendary Bay Area marijuana entrepreneur and rapper who’s now on your label.
Yeah! I was on tour in the Bay, and I knew Mistah F.A.B. from the Internet. He’s a Bay Area rapper, and I just randomly called him and was like, “Yo, I need some weed. I’m in the Bay. I know there’s some bomb-ass shit out here.” He was like, “Go see my man Berner. He’s in the hood, but it’ll be straight.” That’s how I met Berner, man. We’ve been brothers ever since.
Berner has his own strain as well as his own clothing brand called Cookies. Do you play a role in that at all?
Nah, that’s his thing. He’s been doing it on his own, and he’s capable of making it go bigger. That shit’s going to go everywhere.
Berner really runs the Bay. It’s amazing.
That’s how I look at him, too—he’s the boss. So me messing with him, it’s more like a partnership, and it’s an honor for me to be able to say, “This is the dude that’s on my team.”
You really seem like a student of hip-hop. You’ve signed regional legends like Berner, Ty Dolla $ign from Los Angeles, and Juicy J (of Three 6 Mafia) from Memphis.
I just got to go off of my personal taste. I study the game; I study music. I also come from a place that’s like—it’s hood in Pittsburgh, so my general perception is modeled on how hood niggas think. We’re a tough crowd, but if we fuck with you, we’re going to ride for you. So when I’ve got the chance to change people’s perception of these artists, I jump at it. Juicy J is a genius, so he needs to be seen in that light. Berner is the ultimate hustler, and he’s great at what he does; he needs to be seen in that light. Ty is an awesome writer and a superstar in the making, so he needs to be seen in that light.
Speaking of Pittsburgh, one of my favorite songs off Khalifa is “Cowboy,” which touches on the violence there. It derails the typical narrative of the young hustler by having its main character murdered at the end. It’s not a morality tale—it just feels real.
“Cowboy” is a cool song because it describes Pittsburgh perfectly. A lot of people don’t know that that’s where I come from. I don’t talk about it much. But the violence there is crazy, and it’s just between young black people. People have a slim chance of making it out of the hood there. Pittsburgh is really small, so the violence hits home with me a lot. I lost my 20-year-old uncle two years ago. He got shot in the back of his head.
Oh my God.
For no reason. And this shit, it just keeps happening. It’s always young black kids. So me rapping about that, and the song having a violent twist to it, it wasn’t me trying to be tough or say, “Yo, I’m from the hood”—it’s what really happens. That’s what motherfuckers, when they hear it, they know I’m really talking about where I’m from.
I think that’s the power of hip-hop, in a way: It gives you the opportunity to tell stories that everyone else is ignoring.
I feel like at this point in your career, you’re a young OG. You’ve been incredibly successful since you were a teen, and now you’re an influence to a younger generation. But at the same time, you really work to educate fans about what’s come before you. What does that role mean to you?
It means a lot, especially if you recognize that I do my homework—I only pay attention to the greats. I love music and I study music: The way that I’m into it, I want everybody else to be into it like that, too. So that’s why I stay on top of my game. It’s not about me so much personally—I’m not trying to be the richest or flashiest rapper, but I’m going to give you everything that comes with me so you can see how to work within the rap game correctly.
What’s the best Wiz Khalifa album to smoke to?
Everybody’s going to say Kush and Orange Juice, but I’m going to say Prince of the City 2.
Do you approach every record with a different mindset?
Yeah, totally. It’s really based off of my life and where I’m at; that’s where I get my subject matter from. But the music—like the groove and the vibe—is usually a culmination of me trying something new, based off of what I hear. If people are doing one thing, I’m trying to figure out something totally different. And then I get really bored and frustrated with other people’s music, too, because everything sounds the same.
That seems like it would be a cause of frustration as an artist: As soon as you figure out a cool new thing, everyone else just copies you.
[Laughs] For sure.
You’ll do cruising music, then something really hard, and then something really poppy.
It’s crazy, man. It took me a long time to develop my style. A project like Star Power can be heavily Bay Area–influenced, while Kush and Orange Juice can show the cool side of me and Cabin Fever can show the hood side of me. A lot of people don’t know I originally intended to do Kush and Orange Juice and Cabin Fever back to back. But everybody latched onto Kush and Orange Juice really quickly. It was good for me, but I always had it in the back of my mind that I had a bigger story for people.
Kush and Orange Juice was an unprecedented success for you. Because of its singular sound and your diversity as an artist, do you ever feel like its success almost pigeonholed you?
I don’t feel like that at all, because every artist needs a classic. People fight for that, and they starve and fucking break their backs to try to get that classic, that Illmatic, that one record that people won’t ever stop talking about. And fuck—I did it! At a very young age, too.
How do you approach your live shows?
I always want to bring the best show. So I just kind of judge, if I were in the crowd at that event, what would I want to see? I know basically what kind of songs people want to hear and what the vibe is. But that’s one of those things, too, where I always try to take it to the next level. I’m not just coasting.
I saw one of your recent shows, where you and your crew all came out on hoverboards.
Yeah, yeah. We were having fun. I’m not the type of person to spend a bunch of money on flying shit, you know what I mean? But I love to come up with some really good ideas that’ll be fun and that’ll transfer from the stage into the crowd.
Do you still hoverboard?
I haven’t since they started exploding. And then the government started doing weird laws where you can’t travel with them and stuff like that. I’ve never seen one actually blow up in person, but I’ve seen it on YouTube and shit.
I feel like the ones that explode are always the really poorly made ones from China.
I know that a cheap version of anything is bound to break.
You can say that about music, too.
Yeah, for sure.
We have an upcoming presidential election. Do you think the candidates should be talking more about legalization and other issues surrounding weed?
I think it would help, because our vote counts. I feel like the more people are pro-weed, the more you’ll get a different crowd coming out to vote. But there’s a lot of shit going on. When you talk about just one or two things in politics, it’s cool—but at the end of the day, let’s worry about black people. The government needs to quit shooting us.
You just did a song with the legendary Harlem rapper Max B, who’s currently incarcerated. What’s your relationship like?
We’re cool. It’s just like a friendship thing: As long as I know he’s supported, I don’t even got to do nothing crazy to get in the way, you know what I mean? I’m going to talk to him here and there just to make sure his soul is all right. We don’t even got to talk about music—we just laugh together.
How do you stay on top of culture with such a busy schedule?
Really, me and my homies talk a lot; I like to have intelligent conversations. We all just bring it back together. A lot of it is that I just pick up on information. I’m really opinionated too, and I feel like I know a lot of shit without even knowing it. So I might just say some shit without even really knowing about it, but it sounds like I know what I’m talking about. [Laughs]
I think that comes with traveling the world.
It expands your mind. Like, now I want to learn a different language. I never really cared to, but I feel dumb when I go places and I don’t know what they’re saying. So it’s like, “Fuck, I got to learn a whole ’nother language, man. Fuck it.”
“Call Waiting” is another of my favorite songs on Khalifa. It has almost a soulful reggae vibe to it. Would you ever consider making a reggae album?
It would be fun to make an album full of songs like “Call Waiting.” That’s my soul coming out; there’s a lot of feeling in that song. The writing in there is really good, because it sounds like I’m talking about a girl, but I’m actually talking about the weed man. The weed man can play with your emotions, you know what I’m saying? So I just wrapped the emotions up and made it sound like I was talking about a girl. I would love to make a reggae album where every song was a love song about weed.
You’re releasing your own strain soon, called Khalifa Kush. Care to talk about that?
Yeah, so Khalifa Kush, we’re actually growing it—I’ve seen the actual babies, and they’re getting big. The first batch is almost ready, and it’s going to be out and available on 4/20 in dispensaries. It’s straight Kush, but it’s an upper. Everybody thinks that when you smoke Kush, it brings you down, but it really brings you up. It’s super-strong, too, so take it in small doses. Unless you’re a power smoker, in which case, smoke up!
What inspired you to put it out?
I just kind of wanted to do my own Kush for my personal use, and it turned into an opportunity to help everybody else out. I started realizing, “Wow, this isn’t just kid weed—this is sophisticated pot right here.”
Weed is the new wine.
Yep. It’s wine, and Khalifa Kush is at the top of its—fuck it, whatever the word for the best wine is.