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by Mosi Reeves

August 20, 2014

Artist Spotlight: Wiz Khalifa

by Mosi Reeves  |  August 20, 2014

Back in 2006, when Wiz Khalifa debuted with Show and Prove, he was a street-oriented rapper who called his native Pittsburgh "Pistolvania" and wrote songs like "Youngin' on His Grind" that were inspired by East Coast hustlers such as 50 Cent and Cassidy. Today, he's famous as the heavily tattooed author of the football anthem "Black and Yellow"; a friend and smoking buddy of Snoop Dogg; husband to video model and reality TV star Amber Rose; and celebrant of high fashion, making millions and high-grade marijuana.

How did Wiz evolve from a spitter who "writes rhymes until the paper crunch," as he bragged on the great early single "Pittsburgh Sound," to a pop-rap hyphenate? Some clues lie in the period between Show and Prove, when he signed with and then was "dropped" by Warner Bros. Records, and his independently released 2009 album [Deal or No Deal], a modest hit that led to him signing with Warner Bros. subsidiary Atlantic Records. (Rumors abound that he wasn't dropped by Warner, and pretended to go indie for marketing purposes.) With the gold-certified, Alice Deejay-sampling electro-rap "Say Yeah," he showed a willingness to adapt beats that weren't pro forma street tracks. By the time he released [Deal or No Deal] and mixtapes like Kush & Orange Juice, he slowed down his flow, too, instead opting for catchy phrases and his own sung harmonies.

In spite of rap purists’ complaints, Wiz's career proves that hardcore emceeing isn't a universal path to hip-hop excellence. He's clearly not as great a lyricist as he once promised to be, but the quality of his music has fulfilled that early potential. His best tracks — whether big radio hits like "On My Level" or deep album cuts like ["Who I Am”] — have great pop melodies and a weed-dazed delivery that slips effortlessly from vocal harmonies to rap braggadocio.

Only time will tell where Wiz Khalifa stands amidst hip-hop's pop generation, a continually expanding school that ranges from young stars Big Sean, Nicki Minaj and Drake to mentors Lil Wayne and Kanye West. Wiz' current hit "We Dem Boyz" and his new Blacc Hollywood -- a minor artistic comeback after 2012's universally panned O.N.I.F.C. -- are evidence that he remains an artist to be reckoned with.

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