With witty rhymes and a confident manner that belied his age, rapper Wiz Khalifa burst onto the music scene with a series of mixtapes when he was still a teenager. His major label debut, 2011's Rolling Papers, quickly reached number two on the Billboard 200 albums chart, fueled by the number-one single "Black and Yellow." Since then Wiz Khalifa's profile has continued to rise, and in 2015 he and vocalist Charlie Puth had one of the biggest hits of the year, the radio-friendly "See You Again." A longtime resident of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he has done much to establish that city's reputation for innovative, genre-defying music.
Wiz Khalifa was born Cameron Jibril Thomaz in 1987 in Minot, North Dakota, where his parents, both U.S. military service members, were stationed. Like many military families, the Thomazes moved frequently, often overseas. After brief stays in Europe and Japan, Wiz Khalifa and his mother, now divorced, settled more permanently in Pittsburgh about 1996. His musical activities began soon thereafter. A fan of rappers such as Jay-Z, he was writing and performing his own lyrics before he was a teenager. His talents impressed his peers, and with their encouragement he devised a stage persona for himself, adopting the name Wiz Khalifa. In a 2011 interview with Zack O'Malley Greenburg of Forbes, the rapper noted that "Khalifa" is "Arabic [for] successor, leader, shining light," adding, "My granddad is Muslim and he gave me that name." The other half of his pseudonym "just came from me being the youngest guy around everybody. I was pretty good at anything I tried to do, so they called me a young wiz."
By about age 15, Wiz Khalifa was spending much of his time at a Pittsburgh recording studio called I.D. Labs. Impressed by the quality of his lyrics, the studio's management waived his fees, thus allowing him to record his music in a professional setting for free. In the competitive world of rap, where aspiring artists frequently struggle to obtain the beats and samples they need, the lab's generosity gave Wiz Khalifa a major advantage. Like many other young rappers, he began by distributing mixtapes. Thanks to the help he received from the studio, his mixtapes had much higher production values than was typical for the medium. That attribute, combined with an innovative sound rooted in a diversity of rap styles (East Coast, West Coast, and southern), helped his music stand out, and by the end of high school he had drawn the attention of Rostrum Records, a local label. With the help of Rostrum's founder, Benjy Grinberg, he released his first major album, Show and Prove, in 2007. Although Rostrum lacked the marketing resources available to larger labels, the album sold well, even in areas far removed from Wiz Khalifa's base in western Pennsylvania. Its second track, "Pittsburgh Sound," proved particularly popular. A manifesto of sorts, it laid out his claims for a rap renaissance in his adopted city.
In the months following Show and Prove, Wiz Khalifa continued to work with Rostrum, releasing another album, Deal or No Deal, on the label in 2009. He also issued a few singles through Warner Music, including "Say Yeah," which reached the top 20 on the Billboard Hot Rap Tracks list. While Warner was interested in handling Wiz Khalifa's first major label album, negotiations fell through, and he eventually signed with Atlantic. The first product of that agreement, 2011's Rolling Papers, established him as an international star. Although the album produced several other hits, its highlight was "Black & Yellow," a tribute to Pittsburgh and to the Steelers, the city's pro football franchise. Released as a single several months before the album, the song raced up the charts, aided by the strong performance of the Steelers, for whom it became an unofficial anthem. By the time the Steelers faced the Green Bay Packers in the Super Bowl in February of 2011, millions of football fans around the world had heard it. Several months later, when the young star received a BET Award as the year's best new artist, the network pointed specifically to "Black & Yellow" as evidence of his talent.
The next few years were a particularly productive period in Wiz Khalifa's burgeoning career. In 2012 he starred with fellow rapper Snoop Dogg in a Hollywood comedy, Mac and Devin Go to High School, and released a major new album, O.N.I.F.C. (an acronym for "Only N***a in First Class"). Among its highlights was a track called "Work Hard, Play Hard," which broke the top 20 on both the pop and rap charts. The collection as a whole also did well, selling over a million copies.
That success generated a good deal of momentum, and before the end of 2016, Wiz Khalifa had released two more albums, Blacc Hollywood (2014) and Khalifa (2016). While both enjoyed significant airplay, neither included "See You Again," which appeared instead on the soundtrack to the film Furious 7 (2015). A joint project with vocalist Charlie Puth, it spent 12 weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart, tying the record there for a rap single. Helping drive that success was the popularity of its video, which was, of July of 2017, the most-accessed clip in the history of YouTube.
Wiz Khalifa's meteoric rise to fame has not been without controversy. He has been taken to task by anti-drug advocates, for example, for his passionate advocacy of marijuana, a subject to which he has turned repeatedly in his lyrics. While many other artists have praised the drug over the years, few have incorporated it into their stage shows and merchandising efforts as fully as Wiz Khalifa has done. In his web store the rapper sold specially branded papers for rolling tobacco and marijuana. A savvy marketer and an astute observer of marijuana's rapidly evolving legal status, Wiz Khalifa noted on his website that his products were not intended for illicit use. His lyrics and public statements, however, left little doubt that he was an enthusiastic user of the drug.
Since his debut there have been a number of developments in Wiz Khalifa's personal life. In 2013 he married model Amber Rose, with whom he had a son. Their union proved short-lived, however, ending in divorce the following year.
As of the summer of 2017, a decade after his emergence on the national scene, Wiz Khalifa appeared secure in his status as one of the biggest stars in contemporary music. Key to his success has been the determination with which he has built his career. As he told Greenburg, "I just want to expand [my] brand organically and naturally," adding, "Every day I wake up is a work day, and I don't plan on chilling out anytime soon."
Born Cameron Jibril Thomaz on September 8, 1987, in Minot, ND; married Amber Rose, 2013 (divorced, 2014); children: one son. Addresses: Office--c/o Atlantic Records Group, 1290 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10104. Web--http://www.wizkhalifa.com. Twitter--@WizKhalifa.
Independent musician, 2000s--; actor, 2010s--.
BET Award, Best New Artist, 2011; Wiz Khalifa Day, City of Pittsburgh, December 12, 2012.
- "Say Yeah," 2007.
- "Work Hard, Play Hard," 2012.
- (With Charlie Puth) "See You Again." 2015.
- Show and Prove (includes "Pittsburgh Sound"), Rostrum, 2007.
- Deal or No Deal, Rostrum, 2009.
- Rolling Papers (includes "Black & Yellow"), Atlantic, 2011.
- O.N.I.F.C (includes "Work Hard, Play Hard"), Atlantic, 2012.
- Blacc Hollywood, Atlantic, 2014.
- Khalifa, Atlantic, 2016.
- Mac and Devin Go to High School, Paramount, 2012.
- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 4, 2011.
- Cordor, Cyril, "Wiz Khalifa: Biography," AllMusic.com, http://allmusic.com/artist/wiz-khalifa-p843628/biography (accessed August 21, 2017).
- Greenburg, Zack O'Malley, "Wiz Khalifa's High Earnings," Forbes.com, August 9, 2011, http://www.forbes.com/sites/zackomalleygreenburg/2011/08/09/wiz-khalifa-high-earnings/ (accessed August 21, 2017).
- Hyman, Dan, "Wiz Khalifa on His New Album and Life as an Engaged Man," RollingStone.com, August 1, 2012, http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/wiz-khalifa-on-his-new-album-and-life-as-an-engaged-man-20120801 (accessed August 21, 2017).
- Jeffries, David, "Rolling Papers: Review," AllMusic.com, http://allmusic.com/album/rolling-papers-r2137167/review (accessed August 21, 2017).
- McIntyre, Hugh, "Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth's 'See You Again' Is Now the Most-Viewed Video of All Time on YouTube," Forbes.com, July 11, 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/hughmcintyre/2017/07/11/wiz-khalifa-charlie-puths-see-you-again-is-now-the-most-viewed-video-of-all-time-on-youtube/#3023fd577586 (accessed August 21, 2017).
- Trust, Gary, "Wiz Khalifa's 'See You Again' Ties for Longest-Leading Rap No. 1 on Hot 100," Billboard.com, July 8, 2015, http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/chart-beat/6620379/wiz-khalifa-see-you-again-ties-longest-leading-rap-number-one (accessed August 21, 2017).