This feature originally appeared in the September issue of AUX Magazine. Download and subscribe for free in the App Store.
To call Wiz Khalifa’s rise to international superstardom “meteoric” would not quite capture the speed with which the Pittsburgh born and bred rapper has entered the pop music stratosphere. At the age of 25, Wiz, born Cameron Jibril Thomaz, has achieved more than many of his peers will in an entire lifetime, straddling the difficult line between contemporary pop acceptance and hip-hop credibility. On mixtapes like Kush & Orange Juice and Taylor Allderdice, he has proven his lyrical abilities and creativity in finding new ways to rap about getting high, while songs like his breakout “Black and Yellow” and “Young, Wild & Free” are monster bangers, as well suited to a middle school dance as a frat house kegger.
To date, he’s only released one full-length studio album, 2011′s Rolling Papers. But with the forthcoming O.N.I.F.C., his pop dominance is almost assured, as evidenced by the Stargate-produced lead single, “Work Hard, Play Hard.” Stacked with guests both contemporary and classic, along with a salacious acronym – the official title is Only Nigga in First Class – the album seems poised to deliver on the promise of Wiz’s work ethic, natural skill, and collaborative impulses.
Takeoff: Since the release of his first mixtape, Prince of the City: Welcome to Pistolvania, in 2005, Wiz Khalifa’s profile has grown swiftly and steadily. We asked him when he first started to notice that, on some level, he had assumed the same role as the artists he used to idolize as a kid, specifically one of his biggest early influences, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. And once you’ve reached that point, what’s next?
Maintaining Motivation: With so much success so quickly, it can be easy to become complacent artistically. When you’ve already developed a substantial audience in your early 20s, what pushes you to try new things, and to keep creating?
On being young: As Wiz Khalifa says, soon he’s going to be “older than he is young.” On some level, he feels as if he’s laying the groundwork for his future self to relax, but for now, it’s clearly all about working as much as possible.
Featuring: Amongst the high profile collaborators on O.N.I.F.C.—major names like 2 Chainz, Curren$y, Cam’ron, and Pharrell—is secretive R&B wunderkind, the Weeknd. We wanted to know about the process of working with someone who is themselves just exploding in popularity, and clearly isn’t always comfortable with the attention it has brought.
Liner Notes: In interviews leading up to the release O.N.I.F.C., Wiz has offered that the album will be a more raw collection than the finely-tuned pop of Rolling Papers. He elaborated on the importance of that sound, one that was shaped in part by producers like 1500 or Nothin’, Benny Blanco, I.D. Labs, The Neptunes, Rico Love, Stargate and will.i.am.
O.N.I.F.C.: It’s probable that O.N.I.F.C. represents one of the most mainstream uses of the word “nigga” in popular music. An homage to Prodigy’s H.N.I.C. (Head Nigga in Charge), there is a little doubt that Wiz Khalifa has a much larger mainstream audience than the Mobb Deep member ever did, making the choice a meaningful one. A censored version of the album, One Night in First Class, is also available, a choice made not by a record label, but by Wiz himself, understanding that some people are going to be made uncomfortable.