What kind of entrepreneur gives his product away for free? Judging by the decade Wiz Khalifa has enjoyed, a very successful one. (Spoiler alert: He doesn’t give everything away, and definitely not Khalifa Kush.)
A walking, talking, and—as befits the reputation of a man who once claimed to spend $10,000 a month on cannabis—smoking embodiment of the requisites demanded by the “slash” economy, in which the line between patron and artist isn’t so much blurred as it’s one contiguous broad stroke, the musician-slash-businessman-slash-social media-powered marketing machine broke the internet for three solid days way back in 2010, when he chose to release the critically acclaimed mixtape-slash-lifestyle manifesto Kush and Orange Juice for free. His winning ethos: partying, hanging out with beautiful women, chasing positive vibes and staying extremely high.
The business genius lay in knowing that gifting his audience content also meant growing his audience, and thereby his dollars. The next year, Wiz Khalifa was riding on top of the Billboard 100 with “Black and Yellow,” the addictively catchy anthem paying homage to Pittsburgh—his adopted hometown where his acumen in the recording studio attracted attention from record labels before he was even old enough to drive.
By 2013, the prodigy was generating $14 million a year, according to Forbes, enough to be mentioned in the same top-ten list as other luminaries—and similarly multi-faceted business empires anchored in music—including the likes of Drake, Jay-Z and Snoop Dogg. Of course, there was one major difference: Aside from Snoop Dogg, Wiz was the only one doing it while also centering weed. And he was doing it well before cannabis legalization entered the mainstream.
Had he been coming up a decade earlier, that might have been dismissed as too risky of a move by Wiz’s handlers in the marketing department over at his record label. Of course, by that time Wiz had already ditched Warner Bros., his original label, for taking too long to release music and went independent via his own label Taylor Gang—and relying on his demonstrated social media virality to do the job a whole floor’s worth of marketing music professionals couldn’t, even if they tried.
Looking back now, centering cannabis wasn’t a conscious or calculated decision, Wiz tells me candidly. It was just who he was and what he was about—and what he believed to be right and true.
“It really wasn’t a choice, just how I came up and the lifestyle,” he insists. “I’m like, ‘This really isn’t that bad of a thing.’ People thought I was crazy putting weed on YouTube on college campuses, but that’s just what it was.”
More than a dozen years later, the man born Cameron Jibril Thomaz outside a lonely North Dakota US Air Force base remains as omnipresent and as squarely on the cutting edge of just about everything there is in popular culture.
And I do mean everything: In between demanding real estate, in popular video games while also dropping new music in the Metaverse; collaborating with fellow Yinzer Girl Talk and other producers on Multiverse, his seventh album released in July 2022; organizing a free concert; critiquing other rappers who claim to wear expensive outfits once before moving onto the next fit—“not a flex,” Wiz said and praising President Joe Biden’s potentially revolutionary first step towards federally rescheduling (or, maybe, finally, legalizing) cannabis, Wiz visited Florida to launch the latest collaboration selling his eponymous Khalifa Kush—this time in concert with Trulieve, the Sunshine State’s most powerful cannabis business empire. (Along the way, he’s also studied Brazilian jiu-jitsu and Muay Thai kickboxing, and is raising his nine-year-old son, born when Wiz was married to the model and media personality Amber Rose.)
Whew. That’s more of a lifetime to-do list than it is a résumé, but it’s all there. How does the hip hop superstar stay focused on so many lanes all at once? He doesn’t, at least not with any kind of one-at-a-time tunnel vision.
“They all feed each other,” Wiz said in between a flurry of meetings and appearances. “I love making music and I love the companies I’ve created. I’ve built a trusted team around me, that knows the vision and knows how to make shit happen.”
Of course, as a brand and as a reputation grows bigger, the bigger the risk of dilution. Perhaps nowhere has this been more prominently and more keenly felt than in commercial cannabis, where industrial-scaled offerings from Big Weed continue to struggle to compete with tax-free, cottage-industry grown traditional market fire. Trulieve grown-and-sold Khalifa Kush will avoid that trap, Wiz assures me, in part because he has inserted himself into the quality-control process, as any true aficionado would.
“We only partner with people that we know we can trust, and that give our genetics the love they need,” he says. “I’ve been smoking KK for more than a decade, and it’s the same thing we put in jars and grown with the same love… it doesn’t get more authentic than that.”
As for other celebrity cannabis brands and their struggles to break into and stay in a competitive industry, Wiz isn’t all that concerned.
“There’s a ton of room in the industry for other people to do what they do,” he said. “We focus on putting out only the highest quality products using our exclusive genetics. We just dropped our second strain ever, Khalifa Mints, a cross of KK x The Menthol. We have a bunch of new genetics on deck to launch over the next year and beyond. We’re working more than a year out at this point. It’s all about the strategy and patience for us.”
Someone this busy and this successful might have his very own joint-roller in a swollen entourage, but as befits someone who took heat for a fashion ensemble that’s more athleisure than it’s runway-ready, Wiz says he keeps it simple.
“I usually grind and roll myself, but if I’m extra busy I’ve been prepping cones ahead of time so I’m good for a couple days,” he says.
“If you follow me on social media, you know I’m always rollin’ with it.”
After celebrating his 35th birthday in 2022, Wiz Khalifa still has a few years of growth to go before the mid-life landmark of 40. As for what the next couple of trips around the sun will entail: well, probably more of the same, with whatever else is new and good thrown into the mix. Twitter, Metaverse, Instagram or something else entirely: With Wiz Khalifa, what you see is what you get, and the formula seems to be working just fine.
“When you’re visible it’s important to set an example using your platforms,” the talented Khalifa says. “I focus on being a good dad, raising my son the right way, working hard and taking the stigma out of being a stoner.”
After all, he says, “Everyone smokes weed.”
This story was originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now.