Preview: Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller return for their biggest hometown showcase yet
If you live in Pittsburgh you probably know that Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller are Taylor Allderdice grads and Rostrum Records labelmates who also work out of ID Labs studio in Lawrenceville.
Miller has said that he's looked up to Khalifa as a mentor, but the two artists -- headlining the Under the Influence of Music Tour that stops at the First Niagara Pavilion on Saturday -- never walked the halls of Allderdice together and didn't share a stage here until December 2010 at Stage AE.
There was never an era of slugging it out in small clubs together.
"Nah, he's a lot younger than I am, so I did a lot of that stuff before he was even old enough to do that," Khalifa said on the phone Tuesday from a tour stop in Scarsborough, Maine. "He was in high school while I was putting a lot of work in."
Khalifa, 24, released his first mixtape, "Prince of the City: Welcome to Pistolvania," in 2005, while he was still at Dice, selling copies to friends in the hallways. He graduated in the spring of 2006, the same year he released the indie album "Show and Prove," which caught the attention of the major labels.
Miller, 20, got to Allderdice in 2007 and when he started releasing his own mixtapes and developing the image of the happy, weed-loving, Kool-Aid drinking party kid, the comparisons to Khalifa started right away, even though their styles were so different.
"I've been dealing with that my whole career," he says, also about to take the stage in Maine. "When I first came into the game, it was a lot of 'What's your relationship like with Wiz?' The further I've gone in my career, I've definitely stepped out and showed my individuality and why I'm not Wiz Khalifa and I'm not part of Taylor Gang. I'm my own thing and that's what we both wanted. We wanted to be in different entities."
Just a few years later, both are international stars who have made millions and reached the top of the charts. Khalifa topped the singles chart in February 2011 with hometown anthem "Black and Yellow" from his Rostrum/Atlantic debut "Rolling Papers," which landed at No. 2 behind Britney Spears. Miller, after the success of the mixtapes "K.I.D.S." and "Best Day Ever," debuted in November with "Blue Slide Park," which became the first independently distributed debut album to top the chart since Tha Dogg Pound's "Dogg Food" in 1995.
Now, having both built huge grassroots followings from constant touring and rousing stage shows, they've worked their way up to headline the 20,000-plus capacity First Niagara Pavilion. Khalifa says he's only been there once, as a fan watching the Rock the Mic Tour with 50 Cent and Jay-Z in 2003.
Miller says, "We've talked about how crazy it is to be performing [there]. As a kid I went to shows there and always dreamed someday I'd be big enough to perform there -- and I'm here! It's crazy that I'm 20 years old and I'm there and I went to see Dave Matthews there -- a veteran on a veteran tour who has won Grammys and all that stuff -- so to be able to rock that same stage for my hometown is crazy."
The 11-date tour, which started in Atlanta on July 25 and runs through Sunday, has the two stars sharing the stage with the extended Rostrum family and familiar special guests.
"The show is amazing, man, from front to back," Khalifa says. "Everybody kills it, starting with Boaz, Chevy [Woods] and Schoolboy Q, then Kendrick [Lamar] and Chiddy Bang. Then Mac comes through, smashes, and I come through and slam dunk it."
In terms of mixing it up on stage, Miller says, "Wiz can't come out during my show because he performs after me. A couple times I'll come out during his set just to have some fun. Like I went out and did a beer bong during his performance with Taylor Gang which was fun. We definitely watch each other and it's a very positive atmosphere. The show we just did in Toronto [on Sunday] was one of the best shows I've done in my whole career. Had like a record merch night, Drake came, the Weeknd came through. Drake watched my whole set."
Miller has been hustling all summer, playing not only Bonnaroo and Bamboozle but a handful of European festivals.
"The Euro festivals were kind of mind blowing. I can't even describe the energy over there. When you're in a wild country in front of 60,000 people and all of them have their hands up, it makes you realize why we do this. I think over there they know that we're there less and that's their chance to go hard. They sleep outside your bus if they find out. They're crazy over there. I love Euro festivals, man. The energy is completely different than anything over here."
Despite their hard-partying reputations, when they're not on stage Wiz and Mac both have been cranking out material at a frantic pace. In the wake of "Rolling Papers," Khalifa has dropped the "Taylor Allderdice" mixtape, done feature spots like the one on Maroon 5's hit "Payphone" and released his straight-to-DVD comedy "Mac and Devin Go to High School," which he refers to as "like a cult classic." On Aug. 28, he'll release his second major label album, "O.N.I.F.C" (an acronym for "Only [N-words] in First Class").
Earlier this year, he used his tumblr account to express his excitement and also take a slap at his debut, writing that "Rolling Papers" "did great numbers, but creatively wasn't my best work." He added of the new one, "These aren't songs aimed to be hits or widely accepted or even understood. It's for people who live like us and can relate."
In the interview, he shoots down a suggestion that he thought "Rolling Papers" was too pop-oriented.
"Nah, not that," he says. "It's just the work process that went into it was a little different. I wanted to return to what I used to do and how I was originally working. It really had nothing to do with the project, just how the project came together. That's all that was. It was not about the music. I'm happy with the music. I'm just returning to my original work pattern -- not really concerned with who is doing the beats but more or less how we get it done. That pushed me in the direction of the hometown dudes who I always messed with -- E. Dan and Jerm, Sledgren and Cardo -- everybody that people are used to hearing me with."
On his debut, Khalifa was careful to establish himself without leaning on the usual features from guest stars. This time, he's opened the door to the likes of Cam'ron, Pharrell (of Neptune Brothers and N.E.R.D.), Prodigy, The Weeknd, Curren$y and Juicy J.
"I just felt like it was more appropriate, based on having relationships with these people," he says. "Before, I was kinda new in the game and you can use a chunk of your budget just adding people onto your list that don't know you. You know what I'm sayin'? It's automatically gonna cost money. But I made myself more valuable, to the point where we can trade off stuff, so if I know you and I'm cool with you and I got your phone number and you happen to be Pharrell, then cool is better for me. It works out better than having to pay to talk to someone."
The single "Work Hard Play Hard," which he is playing live, already has hit the airwaves and peaked at No. 17. But he says the highlight for him on "O.N.I.F.C." is Cam'ron being on the album. "He's my idol."
Miller has his own gig going with Pharrell, on a forthcoming joint EP called "Pink Slime," in addition to prepping the follow-up to "Blue Slide Park."
"Both of those projects have been taking up most of my mental capacity," he says. "Working with Pharrell has been so different than working on your own project, but it's been great and I've learned stuff from him. And the next album is a lot, too. I can't wait to finish it and get it out there."
Having earned the means to do so, these days, the two rappers are moving back and forth between places here and in LA. Khalifa has an LA base and recently bought a mansion in Cecil township. Miller is in the midst of acquiring his LA beach house.
"I have my Pittsburgh spot, too," he says. "I go back and forth. Don't get me wrong. I love Pittsburgh. I will be raising my family in Pittsburgh. I have a place to work here. I have a spot to live here. But it's nice to kind of just get away and be my own thing out in LA. I can live life there and be away from everything, whereas in Pittsburgh I walk down the street, and it gets... kind of weird. All I want to do is go see a Pirates game or something like that, but there's no way I could do that. I would love nothing more than to do some regular action like that. When I come home to Pittsburgh that's all I want -- I don't wanna be like a famous person, I don't wanna be a rapper. I just wanna go to Loews at the Waterfront and do regular stuff. It's kind of just hard to do that. I would love to go to Kennywood, but there's no way. I would have to go after it closed."
He doesn't have a good disguise?
"I've been working on my disguise, but now I have tattoos and they can recognize me whenever they see some little white kid with a hat on and his pants down and tattoos. They know it's me."
Khalifa, who notes that "every day is a business day," says, "I get to come home every so often and it's only like for two or three days. [Recently] I got to come home for a week. That was the first time I've been home that long in like three years. So it was kinda crazy, pretty trippy. I like to spend time at home, but I'd rather be on the road because that means I'm getting stuff done and reaching new places."
And doing it all with a good buzz. Recently, it came up in an interview with New York's Hot 97 that his fiancee, model Amber Rose, is not a fan of Khalifa's beloved weed. No worries, he says: "She'll never make me quit. She accepts me for me. And the first week we met, she was like, 'You know what? I love you. You can smoke your weed.' And I'm productive. If I just sat around and did nothing, acted like the stereotypical pothead, she wouldn't be into it. But she really digs how much I work. So she's all for it. Whatever makes me happy ... and she makes me happy."
First Published August 2, 2012 12:00 am