NEW YORK (Reuters) - There was a clear winner at February’s Super Bowl, but it wasn’t the Green Bay Packers.
Pittsburgh-based rapper Wiz Khalifa, whose major label debut “Rolling Papers” drops on Tuesday, was enjoying the success of his first big hit, “Black and Yellow.” The song, a tribute to his city, was adopted as the unofficial fight song of the Pittsburgh Steelers who played the Packers in professional football’s championship.
Khalifa’s team may have lost that day, but shortly thereafter the 23-year-old whose mellow and melodic raps often focus on women and marijuana, had the top song in the United States after five years of quietly making a name for himself.
Perhaps the most covered and reworked song of the year, “Black and Yellow” has spawned countless imitations, including “Black and Guido” an interracial love song from Jersey Shore cast member Vinny Guadagnino and “White and Purple” an ode to Northwestern University.
“A lot of stuff that has happened has come by surprise,” said Wiz, reflecting on the events of the last several months, “I‘m really humbled by it.”
The most exciting thing that has happened, has been working with rap superstar Snoop Dogg. The two are collaborating on a comedy film and its soundtrack titled “High School” and Wiz will appear on the elder rapper’s upcoming LP, “Doggumentary.”
Wiz, whose real name is Cameron Thomaz, was raised by military parents who frequently moved when he was a small child, living in Japan and Germany before settling in Pennsylvania. He began rapping at 9-years-old and by his teens was selling CDs in the hallways of his school.
“My mom and dad, they’re proud of me,” said Wiz, “this is what I’ve been working on since I was little. Since day one. We grew up listening to everything. I combine it in my music. That’s what makes my sound -- just being a fan of everything.”
Prior to releasing “Black and Yellow” last fall, Wiz made several well-received mixtapes and independent albums. In 2006, Rolling Stone magazine labeled him a new artist to watch.
He signed with Warner Brothers records in 2008 and released “Say Yeah” a party song that sampled Dutch techno-pop group Alice Deejay. But his relationship with Warner Brothers dissolved soon after, and the rapper didn’t sign another major label deal until joining Atlantic Records last year.
Despite the years of work leading up to the release of “Rolling Papers,” Wiz says he takes no offense to being called a fresh face. “I still feel like a new artist. I‘m still new on a mainstream level and new on a lot of people’s radar.”
He suffered a setback last November when police in Greenville, North Carolina arrested Wiz and members of his entourage after smelling marijuana backstage at a concert. Upon his release, the rapper said via Twitter, “jail sux.”
Wiz claims to have become more disciplined leading up to his Atlantic debut, “My lifestyle hasn’t completely changed but everything is more professional now. It has to be, it’s just part of the job.”
Although, “Rolling Papers” is expected to be one of the biggest hip-hop albums of the year, Wiz seemed calm ahead of its release and refused to get caught up in his own hype.
“I don’t have any expectations,” said Wiz. “I still got a lot of dues to pay. Even though I‘m in the game now, some people don’t think it will last. I still have to prove them wrong.”
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte