Wiz Khalifa has the balls of the Hip-Hop and music industry in a Vise-Grip and, much like Drake and Wayne in years past, he seems poised to capitalize on that success over the coming year. 2010 was his coming out to the masses and 2011 only seems to see the Pittsburgh native climb higher to reach the pinnacle of rap’s Mount Olympus. The man appears on Rolling Stone’s most recent cover as well as on numerous iPod playlists nationwide.
It’s an admirable achievement for someone who comes from Hip-Hop backcountry and has built his success upon the greatest testaments to salient self-promotion: endless mixtapes, college performances and unabashed appearances on tracks by everyone from Ross to K.R.I.T. Props to you, Mr. Khalifa. But in lieu of your most recent material, how are you going to progress as an artist?
Sure, there’s been the two album deals to music industry heavyweights Warner Bros. and Atlantic that warrant attention. However, Wiz’s end product — built upon an almost assembly-line blueprint of rhyming about a.) smoking bud b.) sexing girls and c.) sexing your girl — causes artist-induced hangovers of epic proportions. The material is fun and boisterous, but any further development stagnates.
Wiz has never been a lyrical maestro, but his earlier mixtapes – specifically the Prince of the City tapes and Star Power – showcased a more versatile, malleable Khalifa in stark contrast to the formulaic stoner of the current period. Songs like “Should I Feel Bad” and “Oh No” are testaments to an MC who could control a track through his words and not just a preconceived, packaged image and personality. Persona is key in an industry where perception and differentiation is important, but Wiz has sacrificed the more definable aspects of the rapper (lyricism) for tracks that attract downloads on sheer image alone. It’s regretful considering wordsmith virtuosos like Saigon and the syllable-rattling Baby-Faced Killer can’t even warrant attention from anyone besides industry insiders and in-the-know genre enthusiasts, while Wiz skips around sold-out auditoriums singing about the same ounces he has been copping for the last year-and-a-half.
His success isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it opens up the discussion to how artists remain relevant over an extended period of time. Wiz’s current batch of music is more reminiscent of a fad that comes and goes with the changing internet times, built upon what’s popular only at the moment. New York Magazine has written glowingly about him, but lines from a recent Times Square performance should elicit hesitation to Wiz’s long-term relevance:
“If the insanely young demographic on hand Saturday night is any indication, Khalifa has already paved his road to the mainstream. We haven’t seen this many high-school kids in one place since we were actually in high school, and back then not as many of them were into mixtape rappers. Seriously, who knew suburban teen girls actively seek out rap blogs and download mixtapes these days? Yes, the chart success of his single “Black and Yellow” has something to do with it, but still there’s no official upcoming album, and Wiz has already managed to lock in the youth vote.”
An equally laudable review from Pitchfork also raises red flags:
“And when Kush and Orange Juice, the new Wiz mixtape, hit the internet last week, it was a #1 Twitter trending topic for most of the day…. When a more conventional rapper like Killa Kyleon or Big K.R.I.T. shows up, the contrast speaks volumes. Those guys are both very good at what they do, but they sound almost old-fashioned in this context, nicely breaking up the half-committed shit-talk. Wiz never sounds like he has a lot at stake; he talks like life is a long, unchanging progression of joints and hotel rooms and girls, which, for him, maybe it is.”
Just like T-Pain hooks and jeggings, building resonance on ADD-riddled teenage listeners and cliched topics only leads to of-the-moment popularity. When the next large-scale musical movement sweeps YouTube and inundates Facebook statuses, Wiz’s fire will slowly pitter out, a victim to his own homogeneity. Wiz needs a catalyst to keep expanding his sound and lyrics, similar to his smoking partner Curren$y’s development under the guidance of Dame Dash and Ski Beatz. However, anything other than keeping the status quo to sell records seems out of the question with major label obligations on the line.
Wiz has attained the honor of gracing the Rolling Stone front page and being the music industry’s kid savant. He’s popular…for now. Still, he needs to keep the massively growing popularity bubble from busting underneath him. If he doesn’t, his salience will last just as long as the J he’s burning in the studio right now.