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Unalike in dignity

Rappers Yelawolf and Wiz Khalifa struggle to remain true to themselves

Photo: , License: N/A, Created: 2009:03:13 20:53:00

Wiz Khalifa

Photo: , License: N/A, Created: 2008:05:19 03:35:28


“If you grind hard enough then people will support you,” he said at the time. Having re-imagined Pittsburgh as “Pistolvania” – “because of the murder rate up here” – he insisted he didn’t need to move to New York or Los Angeles to further his career. “I’d prefer to stay here and put myself on the map.” It wasn’t long before those honest intentions went awry.

Later that year, Khalifa released Prince Of The City 2, a mixtape that heralded a substantial shift in sound. Out went the warm soul samples and in came a batch of beats that aped the sound Atlanta’s T.I. rode to success. (Like T.I., Khalifa signed to Atlantic Records.) But the formula didn’t work, so he attempted a series of twists, tweaks and changes to his style – all openly auditioned online. He was part of the hipster skinny jeans set; he rapped over songs that sampled poppy dance hits (“Say Yeah”); he became aligned with the smoking section (“Weed Roller”). And at each stage, his identity became more diluted.

Khalifa has been looking for his artistic voice in an era when every detail of a musician’s ascent is played out in public. Cynically, it seems like a crass attempt to stumble across a profitable demographic. (The aforementioned elderly exhibitionist set has reason to be wary.) And while Khalifa grinded his way to a certain degree of recognition, the process has painted him as the insincere man’s rapper – someone who resembles a marketing meeting, not an artist. It’s not a charge one could aim at Yelawolf. Ask him what goes through his mind when he’s recording and his answer is simple but convincing: “The best I can do is make music that makes sense to me.”

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