Alan Sculley, special to Lake Tahoe Action

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December 27, 2012
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Wiz Khalifa makes the SnowGlobe extra cool

Wiz Khalifa seems all too aware that music has long had its share of one-hit wonders, and hip-hop seems to be a genre where fans are always looking for the next big thing.

That's one reason why the release of his highly anticipated second CD, "O.N.I.F.C." was pushed back to Dec. 4.

"That's where you get the delays and stuff because we really wanted to make sure the roll-out is special and that it hits the right way and it doesn't just come and go, and that it's something that people really, really hold onto for a long time," Khalifa said of his new CD in a recent phone interview.

Khalifa's first album, "Rolling Papers," was a major success, selling about 800,000 copies and making the rapper, who as one might guess from that 2011 album's title, makes no secret of his fondness for weed and a good time, one of the major new names in hip-hop.

"Rolling Papers," with its melodic - almost poppy - sound and soulful beats and grooves, was a good start, Khalifa said, but "O.N.I.F.C." will take his music to a new level.

"On 'Rolling Papers,' I tried a lot of different things that other people weren't doing that I agreed with, you know what I'm saying. It was worth trying and having some fun with," Khalifa said. "But this album is more or less just the biggest step forward, and I feel like it's the best thing in terms for me creatively, as far as singles, as far as visuals, as far as artwork. The whole project is just going to be really consistent with my vision of what a sophomore album should be."

Khalifa talked in general about how the music evolved stylistically on the second album, but stayed away from specifics.

Still, it's clear he feels there was a greater ambition to the music - and a willingness to step away from the kind of songs that radio embraced from "Rolling Papers."

"I think the music is just really, really organic," Khalifa said. "I've had ways of working with my home producer, my in-house guys and making songs that people, they respect and they love world-wide, but it's not really like a typical single or a typical hit record. I think it's just great music. I think that's what we got really focused on with this record, was just making the best songs and not trying to figure out what people are going to react to or what we think they're going to like or what's the next best idea. We just made a batch of great songs that sound sonically, they're all put together great, but they're not too huge and they're not too crazy to the point where people don't understand it. "

In listening to the album, "O.N.I.F.C." feels like the next step in Khalifa's ability to blend hip-hop and pop melody, as tracks like "The Plan" (featuring Juicy J), "Let It Go" (featuring Akon) and "No Limit" are among the songs that feature sleek, synthesized melodies that flow around rapped vocals. The light beats that percolate underneath the music adds to the smooth personality of the album.

Khalifa got a little more specific about the lyrics, saying that while he wanted to retain the good-time feel of "Rolling Papers," he also made room on the new CD for more substantial thoughts.

"It elaborates as far as smoking, chilling, partying and feeling good, but it's also being aware and educating, saying some things with the time that I have here," he said. "It's not just the songs that people will sing, but it's great music. They can sing the song and it means something.

"It's definitely still fun and light hearted, but I would say the more raw, uncapped side came out on this album," Khalifa said. "Like it's that same energy I had when I first got attention. That's what I was putting into this, other than just trying to show the best songs I could write, the best melodies I could (write) and the songs that made the most sense and just represent me."

Khalifa may have only made his presence felt nationally with "Rolling Papers," but he has been on the music industry radar for a while longer.

Born Cameron Jibril Thomaz in 1987, the Pittsburgh-based rapper released his first CD," Show and Prove," in 2006 on the indie label Rostrum Records.

This paved the way for him to sign with Warner Bros. Records, a deal which produced a single "Say Yeah," that hit No. 20 on "Billboard" magazine's Hot Rap Tracks chart. But a full-length album was never released and after leaving Warner Bros. in July 2009, Khalifa returned to Rostrum Records.

There, he collaborated with New Orleans rapper Curren$y on a 2009 mixtape, "How Fly," followed by his own mixtape, "Burn After Rolling," in November and then his second CD, "Deal or No Deal," later that same month.

By that time, a buzz was building in hip-hop circles. He was named one of the genre's top newcomers in 2010 by "XXL" magazine and "The Source," while getting signed to Atlantic Records. This set the stage for a career liftoff that came with the fall 2010 release of the single, "Black and Yellow," which topped the "Billboard" all-genre Hot 100 singles chart and greased the wheels for the release in March 2011 of the "Rolling Papers" CD.

In the lead-up to "O.N.I.F.C." (which stands for "Only Ni***r In First Class") there were a couple of minor controversies.

Khalifa sparked debate online with a cover photo for the album in which he took on a decidedly '60s retro look that drew comparisons to guitar great Jimi Hendrix. Khalifa said he likes what the photo represents.

"The cover, it was just about personal expression and freedom," he said. "I'm a pretty wild guy, so it's about your inner strength and letting that out and letting that be free and being bold and being different.

"And with the comparison to like Jimi, I'm just lucky enough to look like him." Khalifa said. "He was a pretty trippy dude, just into mind elevation and not even having a box instead of thinking outside of the box. And I kind of embody those same things, so people put me in the same bracket, which I think is super cool, but I don't do it on purpose."

There were also reports that Atlantic Records wanted Khalifa to write some songs for "O.N.I.F.C." that would be better suited to be radio singles. Khalifa said he and the label came to an understanding on that front.

"That was just a phase we went through. It was brief," he said. "It was getting them to understand the type of record I wanted to represent me. And they were just doing their job by trying to give me the best record that they felt would take the project to the next level. So you know, in agreeing to disagree we came to a great point, and that's where we're at now."


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Dec 27, 2012 02:18PM Published Dec 27, 2012 02:15PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.