Wiz Khalifa’s debut hit, “Black and Yellow,” does not sound much like other hip-hop singles on the radio right now. There is no Auto-Tune, no Pitbull guestspot, no club that can’t handle the Pittsburgh-based MC. Khalifa’s aesthetic is one that was pervasive in mainstream hip-hop at the start of the 2000s, when up-and-comers like The Game and Ludacris were scoring with gritty singles more representative of their abilities as rappers than pandering to any crossover audience. Back then, the Internet was just beginning to play a major role in the development of new artists. Today, a whole new group of alternative rappers led by Khalifa are just beginning to break into the game using online mixtapes and hip-hop blogs as their weapons of choice.
Like most rappers, Khalifa has aligned himself with a cast of comrades and collaborators. And like most hip-hop crews, Khalifa’s is centered on a central location, though not a geographical one. Curren$y, Big KRIT, Yelawolf, and others hail from all over the United States, but have been connected through popular blogs like “2DopeBoyz.” Though their exploits have mostly been online so far, the success of “Black and Yellow,” which peaked at 29 on the U.S. Hot 100 and even higher on the iTunes charts, hints at even greater exposure for the MC. Named for the trademark colors of Pittsbrugh’s sports teams, “Black and Yellow” has already become an unofficial fight song of the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers. If the Pittsburgh Pirates ever deserve a fight song, they have their man.
Khalifa’s breakout mixtape, Kush and Orange Juice, became an online sensation after its release in April 2010. It received warm reviews from the likes of New York Magazine and Entertainment Weekly and was recognized as a trending topic on both Google and Twitter over the following months. Kush and OJ’s finest moment comes when Khalifa transforms Frou Frou’s Garden State hit “Let Go” into the backdrop for the brilliant post-808’s and Heartbreaks jam, “In The Cut.” “We’re Done” is another highlight, if for no other reason than its delightfully ironic sampling of Demi Lovato’s “Our Time Is Here.”
Wiz’s favorite cohort is a laid-back New Orleans rapper known as Curren$y. Through he probably raps about weed even more than Lil’ Wayne, his persona is far from hip hop’s mainstream standard. Though he indeed raps about having sex with women, he raps about getting high almost just as much, except for when he combines he favorite muses. He recently teamed up with Khalifa on the “Africa”-sampling single “Huey Newton.”
Gadsden, Alabama’s Yelawolf is a brilliant example of how the internet can be the perfect method of exposure for rappers from unexpected places. Despite his awkward pedigree (white, from the Bible Belt, ex-professional skateboarder) the Big Boi collaborator comes off as more than comfortable with this on “FU,” when he spits “I’m from Alabama/You don’t like my state?/Put a stereotype on my people, homie, you know what I’m gonna say.” With his nasal voice, and spastic, whip-like delivery, Yelawolf demands comparisons to Eminem aside from the fact that he’s, well, a highly competent white rapper.
And finally, there’s Big K.R.I.T, a Southern-sounding rapper in the T.I. prototype who’s set to co-headline this winter’s “Smoker’s Club” tour along with Curren$y. K.R.I.T (short for “King Remembered in Time”) does not hail from the Dirty South mecca of Atlanta (rather, Meridian, Mississippi.) However, his breakout mixtape, K.R.I.T. Wuz Here, is full of massive beats and crafty nods to Southern hip-hop culture. Aside from rapping, Big K.R.I.T. doubles as a full-time producer, having crafted all of the beats on Wuz Here himself.
When K.R.I.T. trades verses on “Glass House” with Khalifa and Curren$y, it becomes evident how varied this group is- it’s not very often a song from a Dirty South rapper includes a line about “Pittsburgh pimpin’.” Sure they’re all good rappers, but almost all of them had been producing regular mixtapes for several years prior to showing signs of breaking out in recent months. Music fans know that indie rock hasn’t been the same since the blog boom of the 2000s, and hip-hop’s new school is just as savvy with their laptops as they are with their mics.
Wiz Khalifa. Kush and Orange Juice mixtape
Curren$y Pilot Talk Volume 1 LP
Yelawolf Trunk Muzik mixtape
Freddie Gibbs Straight Killa EP
J Cole The Warmup mixtape
Big K.R.I.T. K.R.I.T. Wuz Here mixtape