With new album today, Wiz Khalifa rolls on wave of success


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"Rolling Papers" has Wiz Khalifa on the run.

One week the Pittsburgh rapper is playing Spring Break in Vegas. The next he's jetting to Austin, Texas, to pick up an MTV Woodie Award. Then he's off to New York for 12 rounds of publicity.

That's where he called from Monday, the day before today's release of his major label debut, "Rolling Papers," which likely will be battling it out with the new Britney Spears album this week for the top of the charts.

Having hit No. 1 on the singles charts with his Pittsburgh anthem "Black and Yellow" and landed on the covers of Rolling Stone and Vibe, the Allderdice grad is on track to be one of the breakout stars of 2011.

This summer, he'll be hitting the big music festivals, from Coachella to Bamboozle. Before that, he has an April 20 date at the movies, releasing "High School" with his "Uncle" Snoop Dogg. Later this week, he goes back to normal life in a sense, hitting the road for a college tour with fellow Allderdice grad Mac Miller.


How does it feel to finally be releasing this record? Are you excited, nervous?

I'm really excited to release the record and just get it out there. Of course, there's a little bit of nervousness 'cause it's my first major label release, but I'm really happy for myself and for the fans as well. We've all worked really hard to get to this point.

You said you "do it big." But did you ever imagine a chart-topping single? Did you think the success would be this mainstream?

When I released "Black and Yellow," I definitely didn't think it would be this mainstream or successful, just off of that. But that was a way to get it started.

When you first signed with a major, was "Rolling Papers" the record you foresaw making all along or were there some twists to it?

When I went into making the album, I didn't have any of the songs pre-recorded, so I went in with just a fresh idea and outlook and just to accomplish with every song what I wanted to accomplish, say some of the same things and some different things, but do it in a way that everybody can relate to and just open the fan base, just widen it to everybody.

Was it way different than making the mixtapes?

Nah, it wasn't way different. It just took more concentration.

There's a lot of variety to it, like "No Sleep" almost has a pop-punk quality and "Fly Solo" is acoustic guitar driven.

To anyone who's followed my music or listened to it, I've always put that element in my music -- pop and funk and dance and all of that stuff. So it's just me doing it again. It's not a change of pace at all. That's I why I think people gravitated to it so much. ["Fly Solo"] is more rock-oriented where, the words are more important and everything's like really simple.

I saw that you recently mentioned wanting to rap over a Mumford & Sons song and jam with Disco Biscuits. Is this a new era for rap in the way it's crossing over?

Nah, it's my thing. I enjoy all types of music, even if I don't know who the artist is. If I hear it and it sounds good, it doesn't matter what genre it is, I'm gonna like it. That's what I do with my music. There's a lot of artists who just keep it straight, like strictly rap music, but I like to branch off and do everything.

You've taken this next leap to celebrity. People talk about who you're dating, they go back and forth on whether you sold out. How does it affect your life and your art going forward?

It doesn't affect it at all, because at the end of the day, I've gotta keep doing me and keep doing the same things that got me to the point where I'm at, which is getting creative and innovative and being confident in my next moves and what I do. There was never a time when anybody determined what I did and what made me me. I always determine that. So if I keep that up and improve rather than staying in the same space, I'll be straight. It's hard for anything else to really bother me.

Do you run into people who are still surprised that you broke out of Pittsburgh?

There's people who are surprised, people who are really proud of me, people who don't even know anything about Pittsburgh and think it's a big deal. So I meet a lot of everybody.

What can you tell me about "High School." Do you think it will be good movie? Is it a career risk to do this so soon?

Nah, not at all. My whole career has built off of visual as well as the music, so it can only help. We're just trying to do it as big as possible, building off the hype and just trying to make it a big deal.

You didn't put Snoop on your album. Were you saving that for the soundtrack?

Yeah, I wanted to save that and keep that special for the "High School" thing. And we're always going to collab after that, but I wanted to keep my album about me and what I was trying to do. Then, I'll branch off later.

So, you think you can beat Britney?

You know, we'll see. I've got a strong fan base and a lot of people who want to see me do well, so... I don't even think about it. I just focus on my record coming out.

You're going back on tour at the end of the week [after doing all this publicity]. Will that be like going back to normal life?

Ah, well, it's just going to be going back to what I'm used to, 'cause my schedule is not going to be as busy. I'm going to have a lot more time during the day, but it's still work work work, nonstop. And nothing's ever going to get easier. So, I'm not expecting that.


Scott Mervis: smervis@post-gazette.com ; 412-263-2576; Twitter: @scottmervis_pg; Blog: www.post-gazette.com/popnoise .


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