Pittsburgh native Wiz Khalifa holds to his hometown roots
Despite his ultra-laidback reputation, Wiz Khalifa tries to keep his hometown's fabled blue-collar work ethic in mind, even as he gets used to flying first class.
His new album “O.N.I.F.C.,” which dropped on Dec. 4, is a celebration of excess. Conspicuous consumption — whether drinking, smoking, buying, riding or flying — is basically the whole point.
But he still manages to homage to his steel-town roots in “Work Hard, Play Hard”: “The quicker you're here/the faster you go/That's why where I come from, the only thing we know is/Work hard, play hard/Work hard, play hard…”
Lyrically, it's a slight departure from his well-established persona — that super-chill, but big-talking stoner kid from school who's always ready to party — to a larger-than-life rap star's plus-size swagger.
“I try to take people and give them new experiences, go through stuff that I know, words that I use, and how I see things, and how I see people,” Khalifa says.
The album is packed with A-list guests like 2 Chainz, Akon, Pharrell, Cam'ron, and The Weeknd. Longtime Pittsburgh collaborator Chevy Woods also gets a guest spot.
“On ‘Rolling Papers' (his previous CD), I tried a lot of different things that other people weren't doing that I agreed with, you know what I'm saying. It was worth trying and having some fun with,” Khalifa says.
“But this album is more or less just the biggest step forward, and I feel like it's the best thing in terms for me creatively, as far as singles, as far as visuals, as far as artwork. The whole project is just going to be really consistent with my vision of what a sophomore album should be.”
Wednesday night, Khalifa will be headlining at Consol Energy Center.
“I've got a band, a live band,” he says. “We really turn up the experience. What you hear on CD is one thing. At the show, it really comes alive.
“It's going to be awesome,” he says. “There are going to be screens. There are going to be lights. It's going to be real interactive for the fans.”
Even though album sales really aren't the massive money-maker that they once were, they still provide a recording artist's primary momentum.
“Without albums, there's no reason to tour,” Khalifa says. “It's all about balancing that and doing both.”
The wiry young rapper, whose skin now seems to be almost entirely tattooed, still lives in the Pittsburgh area, at least part time. He recently bought a house in a forested, secluded area in Canonsburg, which he shares with his fiancé, Amber Rose. She's currently expecting their first child.
“It makes me more focused,” says Wiz, of his impending fatherhood. “I'm really excited.”
The video for “Work Hard, Play Hard,” the first single off “O.N.I.F.C.,” was shot in and around the rusted hulk of the Carrie Furnace steel mill in Rankin. It features images of hard hats, dive bars and salt-of-the-earth working people instead of a typical high-living rapper's entourage.
“Yeah, I love Pittsburgh,” Khalifa says. “Anytime I need to get away and be a regular person, I come back home and chill out.”
Still, he realizes the days of blending into the crowd and going wherever he wants around town are pretty much over.
“I usually stay at the house,” he says. “It's hard to go outside. People get excited.”
“It's not a bad thing. At the end of the day, that's what I signed up for.”
Freelance writer Alan Sculley contributed this report. Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7901.