Wiz Khalifa Big Sean June 22, 2011 @ Bill Graham Civic Auditorium
Better than: The other kind of secondhand smoke
Pittsburgh MC Wiz Khalifa (government name Cameron Thomaz) takes his moniker from an abbreviation for "wisdom" and the Arabic word meaning "successor." And if he is on the path to succeed anyone in the rap game, it is Snoop Dogg. Wiz is a 23-year-old whiz on a jet-powered ride to stardom, propelled by an almost equally inviting demeanor but possessed with an appetite for marijuana that makes Snoop's look like an occasional, dispassionate habit.
Last night, Wiz Khalifa sold out the 8,500-capacity Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, the largest show on the Rolling Papers World Tour. An hour before he took the stage, the air was already leaden with weed smoke. When downstairs, we marveled at how every clutch of teenage and twentysomething friends on the floor seemed to have something ablaze. Upstairs in the nosebleeds, the prevalence below was even more amusing, the constant flicker of lighters offering up the illusion of hundreds of fleeting fireflies.
The room filled in early and gave opener Big Sean -- a Detroit rapper who is jointly signed to legendary hip-hop label Def Jam and Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Music -- an enthusiastic response that must have made him feel like a bit of a headliner himself. He offered up tastes of his long-anticipated debut album, Finally Famous, which drops on June 28. Loud singing accompanied "My Last," his current single with Chris Brown, and his guest verse on the remix to West's hit "All of the Lights."
"I'm from the west side of Detroit, and not too many people get to make it out here," he said, with audible gratitude at the reception. "Thank you so much for making my grandmama proud of me."
Wiz Khalifa calls his movement the Taylor Gang, which has a logo like Converse's famous footwear model the Chuck Taylor. Fans are Taylors. When the logo lit up on the giant screen, we felt the cultlike intensity. People made T signs with their hands, something we usually associate in the Yay Area with thizzin'.
"You know how I know there are some real Taylors here?" Wiz asked when he got onstage with his DJ. "I ran into someone earlier today and they said that I need to do some mixtape shit." Huge roars from the audience.
When he did offer up some of his prerelease songs from the free mixtapes he has released over the past six years, including 2010's Twitter-trending Kush and Orange Juice, a noticeable portion of the crowd knew a lot of the words. But, it seemed, the majority knew the words to everything from Rolling Papers.
What looked like dangerous chaos on the floor when we were up high was actually fairly mellow and respectful when we flung ourselves into the center of it. The fears of moshing that had overtaken us earlier in the day proved to be unfounded. Wiz's music, beyond being enamored of a certain green topic, also favors a lot of bass-heavy and often uptempo electronic beats, which made his buzz first explode in Europe and helps with wider mainstream appeal.
The cutest moment came when the DJ preceded his single "Roll Up" with a brief medley of other songs that mention the word "roll": Big Tymers' "Get Your Roll On," Ludacris' "Roll Out," and 69 Boyz' "Tootsie Roll" -- we could barely see Wiz onstage through the crowd, but we were gifted with a glimpse of him actually doing the "Tootsie Roll" dance. Shirtless. He followed with his Pittsburgh pride anthem, "Black and Yellow," his most recognizable song to date.
And soon, in a cloud of smoke (and confetti), he was gone.Critic's Notebook
Personal bias: Member of the Snoop Dogg generation.
Random detail: Highlights of the merchandise booth included Wiz Khalifa's lighters and Big Sean's "I Do It" booty shorts.
By the way: Wiz Khalifa is working on a movie with Snoop called High School. Presented without further commentary.