You’ve heard about “the shot heard ‘round the world,” but what about “the Tweet shared ‘round the world?” The day before Music Connection was set to do a “phoner” with Wiz Khalifa, the hip-hop star was pulled aside by TSA at El Paso International Airport for not having identification. He was subsequently arrested when they discovered he was in possession of 0.5 grams of marijuana. Instead of trying to bury the story and cancel the next day’s press interviews, however, the mogul (yes, in addition to having his hand in several business ventures, the Pittsburgh native, born Cameron Thomaz, is ranked No. 8 on Forbes magazine’s 20 Highest Paid Hip-Hop Stars, earning $14 million bones) beat TMZ to the punch and Tweeted his now infamous “Jail Selfie,” and then happily talked about the Tweet that day. It’s been speculated that Khalifa got arrested on purpose so he could promote his new mixtape, appropriately dubbed 28 Grams, which dropped the following day. His follow-up Tweet read, “They’re trya figure out how many grams I had. How ironic.”
The lesson goes beyond turning lemons into lemonade. The takeaway is that artists need to know that a mastery of social media is vital to their career. On top of being a Multiplatinum-selling, 5x Grammy nominated artist, Khalifa’s sophomore album O.N.I.F.C. debuted at No. 2 on The Billboard 200 album sales chart, No. 1 on the R&B/Hip-Hop album chart and No. 1 on iTunes’ albums chart. But the numbers that seem the most relevant these days for the “Black and Yellow” star (and all artists trying to maintain a high profile) are the 14 million Twitter followers, the 33 million “likes” on Facebook, the 2.5 million followers on Instagram, and his nearly 250 million combined views on YouTube. Not to go all Lefsetz on you, but maybe those numbers are more important than album sales?
The Wiz spoke to us from Paramount Studios in Hollywood, where he was putting the finishing touches on his latest album, Blacc Hollywood, due out Aug. 19 on Atlantic Records. You can also catch him this summer on his personally curated Under the Influence of Music Tour, tickets having been available since, wait for it…4/20!
By Daniel Siwek
Music Connection: Let’s start with the most talked about Tweet in recent history: how savvy are you that you managed to turn being arrested into a social media event?
Wiz Khalifa: I’m gonna try to say this in the coolest way: not to come off like some guru or something, but really it’s just about making the best out of every situation, you know what I mean? Kinda like I see the bright side of everything. If you lock me up and I have my cell phone, I’m gonna have some fun. That’s how it was.
MC: Apparently they are investigating how it happened. Did they let you do it because you’re a famous rapper?
Khalifa: They can investigate these nuts. I wasn’t surprised that I was in there with my cell phone because I’m the man, and they’re just now figuring this shit out. I’m not some guy. They locked up that dude. It was cool. But on a more humble level, it wasn’t like “Do you know who I am?” It was more like everybody was kinda thrown off by it, like “Are they really messing with you?”
MC: Is it safe to say you’d like to see pot decriminalized? After all, there’s a strain named after you. Do you see yourself expanding your brand to the lucrative pot business?
Khalifa: It’s called “Khalifa Kush” and it’s available in Northern Cali only, and if I did market it, I wouldn’t be the face of it, you would just hear about it. It’s a good question, but that’s not really what’s important to me right now. Honestly, I like [the laws] the way it is. There’s people who understand and there’s people who don’t. It gives us our own way, and we have our own rites of passage that the rest of the world can’t really comprehend. I don’t mind that there’s people that frown at weed and that there’s people who look at me crazy because I have tattoos or because my clothes are ripped. That’s why I do what I do, so I can be different and not the norm, and so I can show people, like, “Fuck you, I do what I want and I get everything out of life that I’m supposed to get!” And that’s what the album Blacc Hollywood is about. That’s what the energy of “We Dem Boyz” is about. It just gets everybody all together in the same tone; just take over, run shit in a real creative way.