High Times: Wiz Khalifa interview
It’s 11.30am in LA and Wiz Khalifa is dropping off his three-year-old son Sebastian with his mother. “We’re here, are you excited? Yes, I’m going to see Mommy right now, with you.” Mommy is Amber Rose – model, ex-stripper, ex-girlfriend of Kanye West and now ex-wife of Wiz Khalifa. The pair finalised their divorce just a few days before NME speaks to the Pittsburgh-raised rapper. It was an amicable split – there’s still love between them. “We just can’t be together any more,” Wiz has previously explained. So they celebrated the end of their marriage by heading to the VIP area of West Hollywood’s Ace of Diamonds strip club together.
This just about sums up the tone of Khalifa’s life. He is, quite possibly, the most laid-back man on the planet, as well being one of its most exciting rappers. The 28-year-old (real name Cameron Jibril Thomaz) has had 10 Grammy nominations in his career so far. His last four albums went Top 10 in the US. His day-to-day existence is partly that of an untouchable hip-hop idol – rapping about weed and women and winding up Kanye on Twitter – and partly that of a doting young father with an ex he still cares for, financially and emotionally. “Smoke weed; take care of your family,” he says.
There’s one thing to make clear about Wiz early on: he’s always high. Not just a lot of the time. All the time. He’s high at breakfast, he’s high in the shower, he’s high when he drives across town on a Wednesday morning. “I stay medicated. All day, every day, that’s the goal,” he drawls. As with his mentor Snoop Dogg, Khalifa’s approach to weed is something more than just a drug habit. It’s a way of seeing the universe. “Creatively I need to be at my most innocent and carefree,” he says. “Where I can be sensitive to my environment. I can accept colours and sounds and turn them into words. When I’m in situations like this, where there’s a lot going on, I still have to come up with a lot of ideas.”
In Khalifa’s world, there are at least five different things going on at any one time, most of which are just background noise. “I’m like a duck,” he deadpans. How does he manage it, I ask – not letting anything stick to him? “Wow, let me see. How do you not give any f**ks?” He laughs his overextended, one-of-kind Wiz Khalifa laugh. “It’s not hard not giving a f**k. But you’ve really got to not give a f**k.”
Not giving a f**k has brought Khalifa everything a rising hip-hop impresario could want from life. He has six solo studio albums to his name, with a seventh, ‘Rolling Papers 2’, due out this year. He has a monster hit in ‘See You Again’ – last year’s tribute to the late Fast And The Furious actor Paul Walker. He’s even got his own strain of weed: Khalifa Kush. Not to mention a range of branded smoking paraphernalia.
Then there’s his crew Taylor Gang, which he’s bringing to the O2 Arena on June 17 for the Red Bull Culture Clash – a four-way, crew-vs-crew royal rumble in which he’ll face off against the biggest stars of UK grime and garage, including Wiley and So Solid Crew. Is he nervous? Of course not: “I ain’t worried about them, because they don’t got as much flavour as I do. I know all them dudes. They’re gonna f**king cry.”
That flavour is the unmistakable herbal accent of high-grade kush (a kind of weed derived from the indica cannabis plant). Khalifa’s verses aren’t just about weed; they’re practically onomatopoeic reconstructions of the simple pleasure of rolling and smoking a joint. His flow rises and falls like sinsemilla smoke. His trap beats hit like bong rips. If there’s one line that sums up the Wiz Khalifa approach to life, it comes from the opening to his breakthrough 2010 mixtape ‘Kush & Orange Juice’: “Up there in the clouds / No one pulling me down / Smokin’, chillin’ / Up on top of the world.”
Wiz Khalifa’s journey to the top began 14 years ago, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Having grown up on military bases around the world, he eventually settled in the city with his father after his parents’ divorce. “I was in second grade when I first started rapping,” he says. “I grew up in a poor neighbourhood. We didn’t have much, so I listened to the radio all the time. One day my uncle got a piece of paper out and started reading it, and it was a rap! It blew my mind, because I didn’t know we could rap as well, not just the guys on the radio.” When his father opened his own recording studio, that was it for Khalifa. “I lived in that studio. And that’s what turned me into who I am today.” Who he is today is the sort of guy who hangs out with Snoop Dogg on a Saturday afternoon, eating snacks and watching TV. The pair enjoy an amiable student/teacher relationship – they’re the hip-hop Luke and Obi-Wan – and are heading out on tour together this summer in the US. “We listen to the same music, eat the same food, watch the same movies,” says Khalifa. “We share being normal people together – that’s the chemistry.” So what’s in Snoop’s DVD collection? “Pimp sh*t – like [blaxploitation classic] Super Fly. We love that.” They don’t watch Game Of Thrones, like everyone else? “Nah,” says Khalifa, with surprising seriousness. “That’s f**ked-up medieval sh*t. They were raping and doing wild sh*t back then. It was dark.”
Of course, there’s one other important ingredient that completes their recipe for friendship. When Snoop first reached out to Wiz, it was at a fortuitous moment. “I had a lot of weed at that time,” reflects Khalifa. “And I knew how to roll really well. It’s like my whole life led me to that point. I was ready to be Snoop’s young homie.”
The upside to being a full-time weed smoker is that one day you might get to roll the perfect joint for Snoop Dogg. The downside is that cannabis is still illegal in parts of the US. It’s one of the few issues on which Khalifa’s prepared to take a stand. “You’ve got a lot of people in jail or who can’t do certain things because they’ve caught cases that had to do with weed,” he explains. Anyone he knows? “Me,” he laughs. “Uh-huh. I get banned from a lot of places because I smoke publicly. And there are a lot of places where I’m a target for the police.”
The last time Wiz was in handcuffs, it wasn’t after a drugs bust – it was when he was detained for riding his hoverboard through LAX airport. “I’m the reason they created laws about that sh*t!” he exclaims, with evident glee. As Khalifa was passing through security he refused to step off his two-wheeled mode of transport. “Twenty of them tackled me and that sh*t was on the news.” At the time he tweeted: “I stand for our generation and our generation is gonna be riding hoverboards, so if you don’t like it eat a d**k!”
Does he have any interest in US politics? “F**k politics,” is his immediate reply. “The issues of the world will always be the issues of the world. You’ve got one or two people who are supposed to speak for all these other people – that sh*t ain’t never gonna work. So f**k politics.” What about Trump? Khalifa’s name comes from the Arabic for “successor”, inspired by his Muslim grandfather. What’s his response to the Orange Overlord’s anti-Muslim scare tactics? “People like him want to get a reaction. But I don’t entertain it.”
This seems like the perfect moment to talk about Kanye West – the only man whose ego out-blimps Trump’s. In January, Kanye misinterpreted a Khalifa tweet saying “hit this KK” as being about Kim Kardashian, not Khalifa Kush. What followed was an incredible (even by Yeezy’s standards) Twitter rant, in which Kanye claimed, among other things, that he owned Khalifa’s son, before burning himself out enough to reflect on his online adversary’s excellent fashion sense. “I think you dress cool, I wish I was skinny and tall,” Ye concluded. “But I’ll settle for being the greatest artist of all time.” It was, in a word, strange. Khalifa agrees: “I was like… oookaaay?” Kanye has since apologised and they’ve made up. “The fact that that happened publicly – it was weird,” Khalifa goes on. “But if I know I’m not going to argue with somebody, I’m not going to let a group of people make me argue with that person.” That’s his duckishness shining through again. It was simply water off his back.
When we began chatting, it was Wiz the father on the phone. By the end of the interview, it’s definitely Wiz the rapper – the man who recently rhymed: “I just f**ked three hoes, I didn’t know their name / P***y come and p***y go, it’s all the same.” A newly single man, he’s on the lookout for any opportunity to hook up with female fans. “At a bar, a show, in the airport, on the plane, at the grocery store, pumping gas…” Pumping gas? Really? “Aw, come on man,” he shoots back. “You never seen someone who’s cute as hell pumping her gas, and you just jump on real quick and ask for the number? You’ve got to get out here with it, bro!”
You might think family life would complicate his sex life, but Khalifa manages to find a harmony. “More women are attracted to me because I’m a dad,” he considers. “Women look at me, like, ‘Wow, that’s how a good dude acts.’ I would much rather get that type of attention than from being an asshole. It’s my goal to be a good father and balance everything.”
Wiz doesn’t care too much about people’s perceptions of him – he’s “more about reality”. So when he’s papped throwing dollar bills at semi-naked women with his smiling former spouse at his side, that’s less for the cameras than you might think. “Family life is what you make of it. In terms of working and having a kid and a partner… outside perception and what really goes on are two different things.”
In the end, it all comes back to Khalifa’s favourite word: love. “I approach everything with love. If it’s not love, then it doesn’t even exist to me.”