Inside a cramped recording studio in Lawrenceville, the tall young man slouched deep into the soft cushion of a black loveseat. He was incredibly slender, and when he stretched his arms across the back of the couch the sleeves of his oversized white T-shirt hung off his limbs like cloth draped across a clothes line.
Upon introduction, he gave his name. “Can you spell that?” he was asked. This was in the summer of 2005. Few people knew about Wiz Khalifa.
After a few moments, he stepped into a small recording booth and did his thing.
Khalifa that day was relaxed, confident and focused — more so than you’d expect of a 17-year-old student at Taylor Allderdice High School. He talked about what, at the time, seemed like oversized dreams. “I definitely want to be one of the big icons of music” he said, “and hope to start a movement that will be well-respected from Pittsburgh.”
It was tempting to hear Khalifa’s words and think, The guy’s young, he’s naive, he doesn’t know how the world works, he’s just another teenager with grand ambitions.
Today Wiz Khalifa is a world-touring hip-hop superstar, instantly recognizable for that strikingly slender (and now inked-up) frame.
Khalifa burst on the national scene in 2010 with the breakout No. 1 single “Black and Yellow,” which became a sort of anthem for the Steelers, then busy plowing a path to the Super Bowl (the season had a bad ending for us — we lost to the Packers in Dallas). Since then, he’s received several Grammy nominations, scored movie roles and TV appearances, launched a string of hits, been busted for public urination on the South Side, smoked legendary amounts of weed and has been married, then divorced.
Through it all, Khalifa has remained a Pittsburgher. He joins a short list of musicians who’ve delivered slices of our city’s sensibilities to a worldwide audience — Stephen Foster, Mary Lou Williams, Billy Eckstine and Christina Aguilera.
Wiz continues to work his way into public consciousness. Last year it seemed impossible to turn on a radio and not hear the pop anthem “See You Again,” which Khalifa made with singer Charlie Pluth. Then news broke that Khalifa is suing former manager Benjy Grinberg (another Allderdice grad) over a contract signed in 2005. And Lots of folks are chatting about his interview with Playboy, in which he discusses Black Lives Matter, growing up in the Steel City and his divorce.
So we pulled a few pictures from our archives to show how this Pittsburgh artist has evolved in the past decade.
In interviews, Khalifa quite often mentions the city he calls home. Here are some samples:
“It is HARD growing up in the inner city with all the gang violence. I see a lot and I’ve seen a lot so I’m basically just speaking to what I’ve been through and what I know that my people that I’m close with and actually related to have been through. I’m speaking for them. And I speak for myself. It’s just Pittsburgh.” — Post-Gazette, July 2005
It was f****–up and really dark. A lot of shootings and gang violence. I saw people get killed. You’d get off the bus and somebody would be dead and they’d be cleaning it up. A lot of waking up in the morning and seeing people you knew dead on the news. — Wiz on growing up in Pittsburgh, Playboy, July 2016
“I always try to incorporate Pittsburgh and where I’m from, you know, what I’ve learned about the grind and the hustle, from being there, I incorporate that into my music and really put it out there.” — VladTV, 2012.
“… being from Pittsburgh, you have room to make up your own sound. People don’t have expectations. We’re not as East Coast in Pittsburgh as people are in Philly, so our vibe is just a little bit different. We’re a little bit more country, more Midwest in general. We have a different way about us when it comes down to music. The beats are really melodic and musical, but they’re still really heavy. They just ride out, almost like down South mixed with West Coast.” — Interview, June 8, 2011.
This is really what molded me, and let me know what I stand for out here in the world. These are the people that I grew to know and love. And everywhere I will go, I will always come back to Pittsburgh. — DJBooth, 2008