To some, rapper Wiz Khalifa was a came out of nowhere, a 2010 breakthrough with the chart-topping, triple-platinum hit “Black and Yellow,” an ode to his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers.
But Khalifa (real name Cameron Thomaz) was already four years into his music career, with two independent albums — 2006’s “Show and Prove” and 2009’s “Deal or No Deal” — and some mix tapes. It wasn’t exactly a long, slow climb, but he’s paid a few more dues than many of his fans realize.
“It definitely wasn’t frustrating; I’ve been working the entire time,” says Khalifa, 23, whose major label debut album, “Rolling Papers,” debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 after its March release and has been certified gold. He was also named Best New Artist at the 2011 BET Awards in June. “I just stayed busy knowing the amount of work I needed to put in to get where I wanted to be.
“If I got frustrated, I think it would’ve kind of knocked me off and sidetracked me instead of me just doing what I had to do. I felt like it was a good thing.”
Khalifa has since rolled another single, the platinum “Roll Up,” into the Top 20 — and into Top 10 of the R&B and Rap charts — and has been featured on tracks by Cee-Lo Green, 3OH!3, Jamie Foxx, Tinie Tempah and Detroit’s Big Sean.
Also part of “the Wiz Khalifa movement” is fellow Pittsburgher Greg Gillis, aka mash-up master Girl Talk, who’s been a longtime fan and occasional collaborator.
“I actually remember going to one of his shows in, like, 2005 and giving him a CDR burn of ‘Night Tripper,’ my record that came out in 2006, before it came out,” Gillis says. “He definitely put Pittsburgh on the hip-hop map, and now there’s a lot breaking out. I definitely run into him all the time playing similar places or the same venues and things like that. I think it’s really cool.”
Wiz Khalifa, Big Sean and Chevy Woods perform Friday, Aug. 5, at the Phoenix Plaza Amphitheater, 10 Water St., Pontiac. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $32.50 pavilion, $25 lawn. Big Sean will have a Finally Home party after his performance at the Crofoot Ballroom, 1 S. Saginaw St., Pontiac. Doors open at 9 p.m. Tickets are $15 general and $30 VIP. Call 248-858-9333 or visit www.thecrofoot.com for both events.
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