What would you get if you removed all the songs about getting high from a Wiz Khalifa set list?
A very short show.
The 25-year-old Pittsburgh rapper certainly doesn't shy away from what sure seems like his favorite topic. He made that clear with the title of his 2011 major-label debut, "Rolling Papers," and he certainly underscored it once again during his sold-out show Saturday at the Event Center at San Jose State University.
Welcome to the club, Wiz.
Hip-hop has long embraced marijuana in its lyrics like no other genre -- although, to be fair, other styles of music (even country) also regularly address the topic and no one bats an eye these days. Khalifa, however, takes it to another level.
That is not, however, all he has to offer. Sure, Khalifa is Party Boy No. 1 in a genre filled with them, but he's also quite handy with a rhyme, unafraid to push the musical boundaries of hip-hop and an absolute wiz at coming up with memorable hooks. All of those things have combined to quickly make him one of the game's top players -- even though his second major-label offering, "O.N.I.F.C.," isn't even out yet.
Khalifa's career, however, has been greatly aided by his live show. He was a dynamic presence when I saw him last year at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco and even more memorable during this trip through town.
Working before a college-age crowd of some 6,900 fans, Khalifa was full of energy and kept things
Some of the sight gags, however, were quite impressive -- in a ludicrous kind of way. One person came out dressed up like a giant joint, only to be joined by another wearing a gargantuan lighter outfit. It wasn't the most subtle display, but it certainly underscored the lyrical content. Parents worrying that this sends the wrong message to their young ones might take heart in knowing that the two costumed characters stayed on opposite sides of the stage — thus the "joint" was never lit.
Khalifa rocked the stoner vibe on multiple occasions, talking about little else between songs. More important, he rolled through "Papers" with gusto, knocking out fine versions of "Black and Yellow," "On My Level" and other cuts the fans dearly wanted to hear.
He also nicely showcased "O.N.I.F.C.," playing a handful of tunes that all strengthened the belief that the album is destined to be an instantaneous hit when it is released on Dec. 4. Although I've yet to hear the album, it certainly appears that Khalifa isn't trying to reinvent the wheel on "O.N.I.F.C." Judging by what was heard in San Jose, the rapper simply stuck to the things that worked so well for him on "Rolling Papers."
"I didn't try to go too deep on this record," Khalifa told the crowd. "I just wanted to make great songs."
Mission accomplished. Of course, the record's first hit single, "Work Hard, Play Hard," was a smash in the live arena. Yet, the other new songs played were just as good — including "It's Nothin," "Rise Above" and especially the bedroom jam "Remember You." Khalifa, to his credit, seems to know he has another winner in "Remember You," a track that features Canadian R&B artist The Weeknd."
"If you want to make a baby to that song, make sure you let me know what it looks like," he remarked to the crowd.
That song, more than anything else, showed that Khalifa has the potential to remain in the game for a long time. Yet, at some point, he should decide whether he wants to be seen as more than just a stoner-rap icon.
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