Wiz Khalifa on paving the way as an OG rapper: “We’re letting the young homies have fun, we’re not stepping on toes”

The Pittsburgh-raised rapper has become one of this generation’s most successful artists, with a career spanning more than 15 years so far. HUNGER speaks to the star about his role in hip-hop, the secrets behind his business-minded outlook and why his desire to be the best is still as strong as ever.

It’s about 10.30pm here in the UK when Cameron Jibril Thomaz, much better known as Wiz Khalifa, joins me over Zoom from his LA home, where the hour is more reasonable, as is the weather. He’s relaxed, sitting topless, and in true Khalifa fashion has a joint at the ready. The Californian sunshine radiates throughout his house as he lists what he’s been doing with his day, which includes a morning workout and spending some much-needed time with his family following his return from a summer-stretching tour in September. Titled Vinyl Verse, and with fellow rapper Logic as co-headliner, it was Khalifa’s first tour since the pandemic began and spanned 28 dates across the US. He may be more than 15 years deep into the game, but his incredibly solid fan base showed up in their droves to support the Taylor Gang head honcho. “There are motherfuckers like Elton John, Eminem and Red Hot Chili Peppers who are still on tour. So to know that my music is standing the test of time like theirs and that I’ll be able to do this for ever is dope,” the rapper says excitedly.

Wiz wears top by DSQUARED2 and sunglasses, nose rings, earrings and necklace (throughout) Wiz’s own.

Vinyl Verse was in support of the 35-year-old’s latest record, Multiverse, which marks his seventh solo studio album. The project saw Khalifa move into new territory, utilising the talents of a grandiose live band for most of the album while stepping into the realms of R&B and neo-soul with confidence. “I was glad I was able to go in and do something different and bring these concepts to life,” he says before admitting he has “no idea what I’m going to be doing on the next one”. Mixtapes included, Khalifa has released almost 30 projects, yet even this far into his career, his willingness to evolve, adapt and experiment musically is admirable. “I love watching people create and hearing other people’s approach to music,” he says. “You never know, it might inspire somebody to do something bigger and better with that same sound.”

Wiz wears jacket, shirt, trousers and boots by DSQUARED2.

With hip-hop threatening to become a young man’s game, where if you can’t stick with the times and implement what the younger generation is doing into your own sound, you could see your career fall by the wayside, Khalifa has been ahead of the game – giving major co-signs to the likes of Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Skies and Travis Scott early on in their careers. “I just want to make music that appeals to everybody and attempt to appeal to people who might not have heard of me,” he comments. The musician reveals he has recently been going “outside the box” with a new brand of hip-hop dubbed “rage”, a synth-heavy trap subgenre that has been popularised by the likes of Yeat, Ken Carson and Trippie Redd. “There’s really no right or wrong when it comes to jumping in there, testing it out and rocking with the young homies for a little bit,” Khalifa says. “I think it all goes hand in hand with staying relevant and pushing the culture forward.”

Wiz wears shirt, shorts and boots by DSQUARED2
Bracelet (throughout) Wiz’s own.

And there’s no denying that this has all helped Khalifa become one of this generation’s most commercially successful rappers. He has amassed three platinum albums and a plethora of gold and platinum-certified singles – including the mammoth Paul Walker tribute, “See You Again”, which has now gone 11 times platinum since its 2015 release. Despite those jaw-dropping achievements, Khalifa has always carried himself with a sense of appreciation and gratitude for his position. He has never displayed the arrogance some of his contemporaries might have developed in his position. I ask him the secret to staying humble and positive, and I could have probably guessed his response. “I’ve always been level-headed from the beginning, and smoking a lot of weed definitely helps,” he says, letting out his infectious laugh for the first time. “I just know what I’m here for. I’m here to make sure I have a good time and everyone else has a good time.” While it’s evident that Khalifa is far from in the twilight of his career, he admits that he sees himself stepping into the role of an OG as time passes – albeit a much more exciting one. “I see myself as being a young OG. I can still do all the stuff the younger homies do – we still dress, drive cars, go to the studio and do relevant things,” he tells me. “But we’re letting the young homies have fun and we’re not stepping on toes because they have a lot to offer as well.

Wiz wears jacket and vest by DSQUARED2.

Another thing keeping him grounded is his strict fitness regime, which he says is of the utmost importance to him. A few years ago Khalifa shocked the world after posting a topless photo showing off his newly chiselled physique. He revealed that he packed on 35lb of muscle thanks to his passion for martial arts and he hasn’t looked back. “It gives me something to be passionate about and approach with a new attitude every day,” he says of his workout routine. However, he does admit that his gruelling regime isn’t for everyone. “Honestly, it ain’t gonna work for everybody. I’ve tried to take a lot of people to the gym and it just doesn’t snap for them. But it made sense for me, and this will be a lifelong thing now.”

Wiz wears jacket, trousers and boxer shorts by DSQUARED2.

Khalifa recently took his passion for combat sports one step further and became an investor in the Professional Fighters League – a seasonal fighting league with a similar format to the NBA’s. That’s just one in a long list of his business ventures, which includes Khalifa Kush, the rapper’s very own brand of premium cannabis products, and Packed Bowls, a ghost kitchen delivery-only restaurant. Khalifa explains that his moves in the business world are calculated and personal to him and that it was his father who inspired his sharp entrepreneurial eye. “My dad was always into business, being an entrepreneur and starting businesses, so that’s all I really knew as a kid,” Khalifa recalls. “My dad instilled in me early on that rapping is cool, but you’re not just going to be able to rap – you have to know the business side of it and expand.”

As our conversation comes to a close, Khalifa’s joint is still going strong while he tells me his goal in all of this. “I feel like I just want to be my best self. People are gonna slip and sometimes you’ll make a mistake, but I just want to show people how human you can be while still being successful.”

Another key to happiness for Khalifa is his family, in particular his nine-year-old son, Sebastian. “Me having a son and being a dad and a family man is the most important thing to me,” he says before adding, “as long as those bases are covered, you can do what the hell you want to do. It’s all about being a good person first.”

Wiz wears vest, jacket and trousers by DSQUARED2.

With Khalifa’s seemingly endless responsibilities, will music and touring ever take a backseat as the years go on, I ask. “I don’t ever see the music taking a backseat,” he responds intently. Considering the prolificacy and quality of his output, I believe him. “Even if I were to get into making films, for example, I would need the music to go with the film, and I wouldn’t want to depend on anyone for that. I’d rather be back in the studio. Even my clothes are inspired by what mood I’m in musically, so if I’m not creating or being inspired by words or phrases, I’m not going to be able to come up with ideas I need for other things, so everything always comes back to music.”

And we’re glad to hear it. Here’s to at least another 15 years of this OG.

WriterChris Saunders
PhotographerRachell Smith
StylistLauren Matos
GroomingTracy Love using Andis T-Outliner Trimmers, Ben Nye Luxury Powder and Co Bigelow
Photography Assistants Kate Whelan, Stephen Goldstein
Fashion AssistantCarlos Santos
ProducersRachell Smith, Kate Whelan
Digital ArtworkWojciech Cyganik
Location503 DTLA