Words by Grant Brydon
Interview by Murkage Dave & Klepto
Wiz Khalifa is taking some time off from touring. To most rappers that would mean chilling out at home, or maybe some getaway to warmer climates - for Wiz this means hanging out in freezing cold London to do interviews, radio appearances and a couple of club PA’s. Right now though, he’s laid back in Atlantic’s UK offices enjoying a chicken sandwich.
An icon for the Tumblr generation, it’s refreshing to discover that he really is the everyman that he comes across as in his music. Far from your average stoner - another of the assumptions made about him - he is a hard working and focussed young father with a vision that many feel they can relate to, and it feels like this is the reason for his success. His 2014 call to arms ‘We Dem Boyz’ is a perfect example of this. A quick search across social media platforms reveals people of all race, gender and age rejoicing on their keyboards, digitally chanting the hook: ‘Hol’ up, Hol’ up, We dem boyz’.
Wiz has been an influential force in hip-hop over the past 5 or so years. 2010 saw the release of his influential breakthrough mixtape Kush & Orange Juice, and fans have watched the Pittsburgh rapper go from strength-to-strength ever since. But it doesn’t stop with rap, or even music, Wiz is now inspiring fashion, film and lifestyle as he endeavours to inject his creativity beyond his initial medium.
As he has his lunch, Ian Connor - an Instagram famous kid, who has taken on the role of stylist for Wiz - potters around setting up looks for our shoot. It’s this kind of influence that Wiz is proud of, a generation of kids who are making their own paths, not confined to attending the 9 to 5’s that they see their parents enduring on a daily basis.
We’ve invited Murkage - a Manchester based collective known equally for throwing the cities biggest parties, as they are for their genre-defying musical output - along to the shoot to speak with Wiz about his come up. Their kindred entrepreneurial spirits and misfit image makes them a fitting match up, not to mention the fact that Kush & Orange Juice provided the soundtrack to their studio sessions as they recorded their, albeit starkly different, debut EP SFSG.
Sitting down with Wiz, Murkage Dave and his brother DJ Klepto congratulate him on the success of ‘We Dem Boyz’ a track that has consistently received a strong reaction when dropped at the Murkage Club. “It was one of our biggest tracks this year,” Dave informs him. “It feels different to the other club records that are popping right now.” Receiving the compliment humbly, Wiz enquires what feels different about it. “The hook is so strong that it cuts over a lot of other big rap records,” offers Klepto. “It feels more like an anthem.”
Upon hearing the beat, the seed that begins all of his musical ideas, Wiz decided to make an anthem, but one that was more inclusive than previous records, such as his hometown tribute ‘Black & Yellow’. “When I got into the studio with Detail I wanted to do something that was urban but also invited everybody in,” he offers in response to why the song may evoke a stronger response than other records.
Again and again Wiz seems to tap into songs that resonate with those who share (or at least aspire) to the lifestyle that he promotes through his music. The music, can often evoke 80’s rock & pop vibes with uplifting densely built instrumentals that build loud enough for stadium status as Wiz croons infectious hooks about smoking, partying and living life to the fullest. Above the recklessness that this evokes on the surface, it feels like the aim is more to promote a rebelliousness, not for negative reasons but to allow kids to dream and to live by their own rules.
The Murkage guys are particularly interested in Wiz’s latest single ‘Stayin’ Out All Night’ - a more pop focussed track than ‘We Dem Boyz’, but similarly addictive. “It really inspires me and makes me move and is really what works for me,” says Wiz of his uncanny ear for a big anthem. “Thats’s what my fans look up to me for, and like I said it’s something that comes to me naturally so it’s easy to keep going and building on top of things that people already consider to be great. So it’s like ‘Black & Yellow’, ‘Roll Up’, ‘On My Level’, ‘Work Hard Play Hard’, ‘Remember You’. I just keep doing them on top of it, and whatever I feel like people need next or what they’re looking forward to next then that’s what I go towards, and it tends to work out for me and if it doesn’t.” He pauses, laughing, “…no it always works out.” Nonetheless, it’s certainly not something that he can get too comfortable with. Dave asks whether he feels like it’s a natural evolution or something that’s more carefully considered, and Wiz responds, “It’s something that I think about, and something that I have to pay attention to; what other people want. But also knowing my position in the game as a leader, as a trendsetter and somebody that people look to for these things, so I can’t ever limit myself to anything. I always have to be ready to expand and broaden.”
‘Stayin’ Out All Night’ also had Wiz pushing the boundaries on the visual front, utilising technology that allows fans to interact and choose their own storyline as Wiz goes off on a wild night of partying, getting himself in different situations lead by the viewer along the way. The visual co-stars Tia Carrere, who Wiz wanted to work with off the back of her role as Cassandra Wong in Wayne’s World. “I thought that was really dope for our generation and really cool for people to see and be a part of,” he says. “The video is a real play off of my personality and who I am. I’m just goofy, fun, I just like to have a good time in life, so switching it from the hot girl to the hot mom is totally something I would do in real life.” And of the interactive element he adds: “That just made sense being in tune with my fans, and how technology has been such a big part of my career. So to put the two together and have the fans interact with some brand new technology, something that’s never been done before, and being ahead of the curve and moving forward; it just seemed like the thing to do.” Although the interactivity is limited at this stage, it certainly feels like something that will be pursued more heavily in the future as technology advances, and Wiz will once again be an influencer.
“I just think when you get older you have to stay inspired, whereas when you’re younger all you really have is your inspiration,” considers Wiz at one point, returning to the sofa while Connor arranges the next look. It’s a meme-worthy quote, but is also very relevant to Wiz and the team around him. Juicy J for example, has never been as relevant, despite being a 39-year-old pioneer of the Memphis horrocore style with Three Six Mafia. Combining his legacy with the youth of Wiz Khalifa and his Taylor Gang movement is one of the best executed rap partnerships in recent memory. “I always saw myself as someone that would be able to fit into Three Six Mafia or be able to write songs with Juicy that would go a long way, just based off how much I felt like I knew about him through his music. And then to meet him in real life and really find out that’s the truth, and to be able to make those songs, it’s awesome,” he says of his signee, clearly a fan before a label head. Wiz speaks of Juicy as a collaborator rather than a signee: “I listened to a tonne of Juicy’s music. It was an awesome thing to be able to work with him in general, like I said it’s more about the relationship than the business.” The relationship goes back to Cabin Fever, a mixtape that Wiz put out in 2011 with producer Lex Luger and a song called ‘Errday’ which features Juicy. Three Six Mafia co-founder and Juicy’s older brother also joins the pair on Blacc Hollywood’s ‘KK’ which was a highlight for Wiz. “It’s just us as a duo or putting Project Pat on anything, or having our voices [together],” he says still almost disbelieving. “I understand the Three Six Mafia format so it’s a big deal to me.”
Another artist that Wiz has connected closely with is Ty Dolla $ign, the pair connected whilst working with multi-instrumentalist and hip-hop producer Terrace Martin. “We were at the Record Plant and Wiz had the other room. I didn’t know who he was at the time, we were smoking hella blunts,” Ty told us a few weeks prior. “And then after that ‘Say Yeah’ came out blew up a little bit then he had ‘Black & Yellow ‘that blew up, then I put out my Beach House mixtape and he hit me up ‘What’s up, this the shit’. I was like ‘Aight’, and then we ended up doing this Taylor Gang thing.” Wiz was struck by the relevance of the tape, explaining: “He was saying everything that I wanted to hear at that time, and he was saying it in a way that nobody else was saying it. When I heard it, I immediately hit up my business partners like ‘Yo, we gotta sign Ty Dolla $ign. I don’t care what it takes, but we have to sign him.’” With the assistance of Wiz and his team, Ty was able to make the right decisions to reach the maximum impact for his project, but Wiz doesn’t take too much credit. “Ty does everything on his own, he’s so self-sufficient - that’s another thing that made me really interested in him, is how much he does for himself,” he explains. The vocalist appears on Wiz’s Blacc Hollywood three times, a testament to how well the pair complement each other. “He’s a great writer as well as a performer, and I admire his writing and the process he goes through to write and create music,” adds Wiz. “I felt like if we came together it would make a really big movement.”
And this extends beyond the Taylor Gang camp. He’s recently been working with Atlanta collective Two-9, signees of Mike Will Made-It’s Ear Druma Records, who worked with him on his latest mixtape, 28 Grams, and will be putting out a collaborative project with Taylor Gang later this year. “I’ve been listening to them for a while, checking out their music and watching their videos. It was a while before I got in touch with them,” explains Wiz of their relationship. “They came to L.A. maybe for like a week when I first started doing the Trap Wiz mixtape. It was January when I turned into Trap Wiz, and I made the tape in June. I flew them out there for a week, we were just working on beats and just coming up with different styles. That’s where a lot of our new music has come from, the work we put in back then.”
Dave brings up the idea of a new black movement that is growing either side of the Atlantic, that Murkage are pushing in the UK. Those who aren’t particularly confined to the hobbies, styles and interests that have been associated with the generations that preceded them. He asks Wiz whether he’d consider himself a leader of a similar movement, and Wiz yields. “We all are into the same things and I feel like it’s just that time,” he begins. “In our generation it’s inevitable - there’s certain types of people, people who this and people who do that, people who follow their own paths. We march to our own drum and it’s been like that since we were little. Now that we’re older and we’re able to have careers based off it and travel the world, we can meet people who are just like us.”
The topic turns to future stars for the new generation, and Wiz reveals that he has his eyes on multiple platforms of creativity for the next wave. “Anybody that expresses themselves, whether it’s fashion or photos, and it’s all over; it’s not just music. There’s kids who are like famous on vine - there’s an art to that as well.”