Young Hip-Hop star to blaze up Pearl Street

By Dan Gigliotti

Hip-hop artist Wiz Khalifa, flying high off of recent acclaim, rides his tour bus into Northampton tonight, bringing with him an effervescent flow and a bag of inspiration. The incipient rapper is set to blow the roof off of the Pearl Street Night Club, and maybe blow some Os in the meantime.

Popping onto the music scene in 2005, the 17-year-old Wiz kid garnered the attention of underground mix-tape listeners right away with the release of “Prince of the City: Welcome to Pistolvania,” hosted by DJ Big Mike. In 2006 he compiled his first full-length album called “Show and Prove,” released off of Rostrum Records, and was recognized as a rising artist by AllHipHop.com and Rolling Stone magazine.

In 2007, he signed a deal with Warner Bros. Records which appeared to be his big break. After releasing two mix-tapes through Rostrum Records, “Grow Season” hosted by DJ Green Lantern and “Prince of the City 2,” his first single “Say Yeah” debuted. The track, which featured a sample of “Better Off Alone” by Alice Deejay, reached 25 on Billboard’s Rhythmic Top 40 and number 20 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Tracks.

Sensing that his record company did not share his same vision for the future of his career, Khalifa (whose name is derived from the Arabic words for “successor” and “wisdom,” and his natural propensity to excel) decided to break from Warner Bros. late in 2009, confident that he could promote himself with the help of growing online social networks.

“I feel like [Warner Bros.] lost interest in the project,” said Wiz in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. “I think they had me figured as a different kind of artist than I really am. With me being such an in-depth artist with so many different avenues and so many different pieces to me, it takes a little bit more to market me and really figure out who my core audience is.”

Wiz wasn’t willing to wait and so, taking matters into his own hands, he hit the digital networks drumming up fan pages on sites like Twitter, MySpace and Facebook and putting out free music through YouTube and iTunes. His strategy is proving successful with over 200,000 fans and followers on his sites and more attention in print.

2009 was his most productive career as an artist, releasing hit mix-tapes “Flight School,” “Burn After Rolling” and “How Fly,” a collaboration with New Orleans rapper Curren$y who appeared recently at his performance at the Fillmore New York at Irving Plaza. In November, he released his second full-length album “Deal or No Deal.”

The 22-year-old Wiz kid’s energy on each track is as youthful as he is, effortlessly stringing together rhymes about all things green, including money, envy and a certain mind-altering plant. In his later recordings, he has taken more to singing hooks, sometimes more pleasant on the ears than others, such as in “Hello Kitty,” but his enthusiasm is infectious and fans can’t help but listen to his auto-tuned melodies and grin.

He has a good taste for production, flowing smoothly over an eclectic blend of progressive beats, classic soul and old school hits. On his Star Power mix-tape, you can hear Khalifa’s auto tune prowess and unfaltering flow on “Hero Freestyle,” “Weed Roller” dedicated to his right-hand women, and insight into his egregious tattoos in “Ink My Whole Body,” a sample of the retro “I’m Kurious” jam of the mid-’90s.

On Burn After Rolling, an ode to haters on the song “If I Were a Lame” follows a fan favorite “The Thrill” while later on he tackles Camp Lo’s classic “Luchini (This is it)” on the song “Won’t Land.”

His new album features upbeat songs such as “Chewy” and “This Plane” and a few collaborations with little known artists Josh Everette and Lavish, as well as one song with Curren$y entitled “Friendly”.

The stoner-rapper won’t hesitate to express his love for psychedelics in his songs, or in public, embracing his carefree image. He is featured in a recent spread in The Source magazine pictured amidst rings of smoking circles, and he donned the cover XXL Magazine’s Freshmen addition on March 16 when he was named one of the top 10 up-and-comers to watch.

Young Khalifa has shown wisdom beyond his years in poising himself to explode as rap’s next big thing, breaking away from a major record deal and using the internet to promote a fresh image.

With a tour that started in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday and will later make its way to California in an effort to promote the new album, a promising future lies in the wings for the east coast talent, thanks to much praise in the music industry.

He performs tonight at Pearl Street beginning at 8:00 p.m. with opening acts Yelawolf and Hendersin.

Dan Gigliotti can be reached at [email protected]