By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
By Steve Weinstein
By Araceli Cruz
"Put your thumbs in my eyes. Right there," Wiz Khalifa instructs. "Then you push in, and the eyeballs pop out." I squeamishly obey and place my thumbs gently on the rapper's tear ducts. He's teaching me how to kill a man based on his Jeet Kune Do training. It's the closest I've been to Wiz's face (or really, any rapper's face) and looking into his warm brown eyes and flawless complexion, dotted with facial ink that includes a star and peace sign, it's hard not to stare.
Satisfied with my eye gouging, Wiz steps back into the greenroom at BET's midtown studio. The rapper (born Cameron Thomaz) is in full promo mode for his new album, Blacc Hollywood, and has just finished a taping for 106 & Park. Contrary to popular belief, marijuana is prohibited in the building, so the 26-year-old has to light up in the bathroom. "They really get mad if I smoke. It's happened before," he explains, glancing down at his knees, which are emblazoned with the words "Purple" and "Haze" in honor of Harlem rapper Cam'ron. Despite his ounce-a-day habit, the "weed snob" (Kush is his favorite) empathizes with the suits who own the building. "You certainly can't smoke in some places."
On July 14, 2009, Wiz Khalifa performed his first major New York City concert at The Studio at Webster Hall. For a relatively unknown kid from Pittsburgh — his seminal mixtape Kush & Orange Juice hit the 'nets a year later — it was a pretty big deal. "It feels cool. Being in this dressing room. I remember what it was like that night," he muses, back in the subterranean venue. He twists a lock of his black and blond hair. "I know how much history has been in this place. Places like this are around forever for a reason."
Shortly after that landmark show, Wiz inked a deal with Atlantic Records and hit a home run with 2010's "Black and Yellow." His celebrity only increased after crossover hits like "Work Hard, Play Hard" and "Payphone" with Maroon 5, and his 2013 marriage to Amber Rose. The couple now lives in Los Angeles with their son, Bash.
Wiz Khalifa, now five albums deep, is many things — including stoner rapper and pop star. On Blacc Hollywood, he sets out to prove that he can do it all.
The lead single, "We Dem Boyz," shows the rapper treading new territory by crafting a club banger. "I purposely did that and put it out as my first single," he says. Many considered "We Dem Boyz" a risky move, given hip-hop's overuse of the trap sound. "They didn't really understand it right away," Wiz says of early detractors.
But there was a method to his madness; namely, giving urban radio something all their own. "There's so many urban DJs who love my music, but they don't get a chance to play it. ... I stepped out, like, 'I'm gonna give y'all something because you support me so much.' "
Good thing he trusted his gut. From the raucous reception at Webster Hall, "We Dem Boyz" is a contender for song of the summer. "New York, I've been fucking with you since day one!" he exclaims, while shirtless, during the set.
At the other end of the gamut is the melodic "Stayin out all Night." "Getting drunk, stayin' out all night ... Crashing a party, stayin' out all night," he sings on the Dr. Luke — helmed song. Radio-ready and already primed for the incoming class of raging freshmen.
The balance of rap and pop feels organic, reflective of Wiz as a person. "I blend with both sides because I grew up in a military family," he says of ingratiating himself with white and black worlds. "I embrace my talent for writing and melodies so I'm not scared to go there, but my background is hardcore rap." He says he draws inspiration from the hood and the 'burbs alike on Blacc Hollywood, even hitting L.A.'s underground raves to see what the cool kids are doing. "You get hella inspired."
There's no shortage of inspiration for Wiz Khalifa. Following Blacc Hollywood, the rapper continues his Under the Influence of Music tour (which stopped at Jones Beach in July), begins shooting the sequel to Mac & Devin Go to High School with Snoop Dogg and releases another sneaker with Converse. In what little leisure time he has, he's a budding pool player and photographer, and has more tattoos planned, including a visage of John Travolta circa Pulp Fiction.
As for a much-deserved vacation? "Take a vacation? Nah," Wiz says. "I just want to spend time with my son. Go home and do that."
Blacc Hollywood is out now on Atlantic Records.