Wiz Khalifa is hungry. “Where is the breakfast or lunch menu?” Khalifa says on the phone from Dallas. “You would think if you were in a suite like this, there would be a menu.”
Khalifa, 27, is used to getting what he wants. The charismatic rapper has put in the work, and he is reaping the rewards. “I’ve broken my back trying to get where I am,” Khalifa says. “I’ve always been good at what I do, but being good isn’t enough. You got to work at it.”
The idea of military-like discipline and the charismatic, cannabis-loving rapper seems at odds, but there is a connection thanks to Khalifa’s father, Lawrence Thomaz, a former Marine, who helped mold the young man (his given name is Cameron Thomaz).
“My dad, who is here with me right now, has been instrumental in so many ways,” Khalifa says. “He instilled that work ethic in me. He has had a huge impact on me. He was always into music. I remember hearing Jimi Hendrix as a kid. There was always something on when I was young and we would talk about it. He also had me write down what my goals are. That’s more important than you think. It’s a good idea to set goals at an early age. I’m business-savvy because he owned businesses and I was right there with him. I remember being in his clothing shop when I was 14 and then being at his nightclubs. You have to know the business when you do what I do.”
That exposure benefited Khalifa, who is one of the most magnetic and successful rappers of the last generation. Khalifa, who will co-headline Saturday with Fall Out Boy at the Walnut Creek Amphitheatre, isn’t just a clever wordsmith. He commands attention like few of his peers, who are often content to just stalk the stage like panthers.
“I give my audience what they need,” he says. “Every crowd is different. I just go and have fun with them. You never know what I’ll do.”
Style and substance
The animated entertainer, who bounced around from military base to military base around the world before settling in Pittsburgh as a teenager, has an easy, devilish smile when he rocks the mic in front of a crowd. Unlike many of his peers, Khalifa also looks the part of a larger-than-life figure, with his endless array of tattoos. On the cover of his fifth album, “Blacc Hollywood,” Khalifa’s face is shrouded by a mushroom cloud of smoke.
“Style is important,” Khalifa says. “It’s another form of expression, and there aren’t as many people out there expressing themselves. I remember Rick James and Prince and their look. Their sense of style was amazing. You have to have style, but it’s nothing without substance.”
His latest batch of hardcore rap packs plenty of swagger, paranoia and hooks.
“There’s a lot of positive on this one,” Khalifa says. “I’ve remained upbeat.”
The moody “Hope” opens the album with Hendrix-esque guitars, and Khalifa raises the stakes from there with some help from such guests as Nicki Minaj and Juicy J.
“I look up to those two,” Khalifa says. “They both have a lot of style and substance.”
But no guest takes the star power from Khalifa, who has as many rhymes as he does tattoos.
True to Pittsburgh
Khalifa is a well respected figure in the world of hip-hop. He’s close with the iconic Snoop Dogg and young word slinger Mac Miller, a fellow rapper out of Pittsburgh, who he has worked with in the studio.
“There’s nobody I respect as much as Wiz,” Miller says. “He’s like a big brother to me. It’s more than just about music with him. We’re just really good friends. Like me, he’s true to our city.”
There’s a certain grit and grace to Pittsburgh, and Khalifa embodies that. His love for the western Pennsylvania city is there in song. “Black and Yellow,” the town’s colors, is one of the rapper’s anthemic cuts. Khalifa splits time between homes in Los Angeles and suburban Pittsburgh.
“I love Pittsburgh,” Khalifa says. “I’m an underdog, just like my city. It’s an inspiring place. I’m not going to leave it. But I can’t always be in Pittsburgh. I have to go on the road and I have to eat.”
What’s Khalifa going to order? “I’ll have a cheeseburger and fries and I’ll have some sushi too,” Khalifa says. “I gotta eat. I need my energy.”
Perhaps after lunch, Khalifa will add a tattoo. Is there any room left on the Khalifa canvas?
“I still have a little space on my back and feet,” Khalifa says. “I am running out of room. Can you believe that?”