Organic Growth


Cameron Jibril Thomas, better know as Wiz Khalifa, initiated a riveting grass roots rap movement from Pittburgh, Pennsylania. He distributed his mixtapes for free in order garner a large and devoted following. Mix tapes are universally used by burgeoning hip hop artists wishing to broaden their fan base. They are composed of traditional or experimental hip hop songs in order to build anticipation for”radio-ready” album. In this digital era, a mix tape can be purchased occasionally for a low price on iTunes, or a retail store, but always online for free. Hip hop artists send their mixtapes to hip hop blogs to reach an audience outside of their local communities with minimum funds., and have all become gatekeepers into the underground hip hop industry. An endorsement from these blogs strengthens an artist’s reputation tremendously. This is a list of Wiz’s seven mixtape releases spanning from 2006 to 2009 on the hip hop mix tape website,

On April 14th 2010, Wiz Khalifa’s eighth mix tape Kush & Orange Juice was released as a free online download via his Twitter. Within a few hours the project quickly became one of Google’s top ten hottest search trends and the number one trending topic on Twitter. The project received 463,602 downloads and 628,364 streams on DatPiff alone.
The mix tape cover was inspired by David Ruffin’s Gentleman Ruffin. David Ruffin was the lead singer of the famous rhythm & blues group, The Temptations. While most rappers have a flashy daunting mix tape artwork, Wiz decided to go for a retro and more mature feel. Before even pressing play, Wiz Khalifa distinguished himself from his competition.
Gentleman Ruffin Album Art Work
Kush & Orange Juice was applauded by reputable magazines and blogs in every corner of the country. Wiz’s charisma and funk production were the two ubiquitous motifs in every article. Pitchfork Magazine complimented his “great ear for beats” because of the “smooth 1980s-funksynths and drums that amble along slowly and quietly” throughout the record. XXL Magazine highlighted how Wiz Khalifa “even utilizes a sample of the Loose Ends’ 1985 song, “Hangin’ On A String“. The sample gives stand out track, The Kid Frankie, its great funk groove. New York Magazine commented on how his “cartoony, overly enunicated flow” brings back memories of “classic G-funk“. According to the critics, Wiz Khalifa finally found the right formula. His goofy and laid back demeanor mixed with funk and retro sonic backing was the perfect match. So who was responsible for music behind Wiz? In the bottom left corner of the back cover of the mixtape, the producers are listed in fine print.

This list of producers have continuously helped Wiz on his rise to stardom. They creatively constructed the sonic landscape of the tape, and critics,  generously gave them compliments. Wiz Khalifa quickly signed to Atlantic Records to begin an album after the positive feedback from his mixtape, and the label welcomed their new charismatic rapper with open arms. Back in 2007, Wiz signed to Warner Bros. Records but left after just two years because of “series of delays” in the release of his first major label debut. Wiz says, “I learned a lot during my time there and matured as an artist during the process. I’m happy to be moving on with all of my material and having the chance to be in control of my next move”. After Wiz’s new found knowledge, what should we expect from his second attempt with a major label? Would his mixtape’s celebrated performance give the artist more power with the label? Let’s see…
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The Wiz and Atlantic promotional strategies commenced. Wiz’s online Youtube-hosted show titled “DayToday” continued its broadcast but with higher quality cameras and better executed editing (presumably financed by Atlantic). Fans are able to view the whole crew’s marijuana-induced shenanigans with cameo appearances from Amber Rose,Waka Flocka Flame, and Drake.


Four music videos were filmed to promote the new album, but only three of the videos graced the television sets of American homes. “Black and Yellow”, ‘Black and Yellow (G-Mix)”, “Roll Up”, and “On My Level” were the closely chosen songs to receive visual assistance.”Black and Yellow” reached the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 list to later give birth to dozens of remixes. “On My Level” was the only video not televised, and it should not surprise you that the song sounds very different from the other three. “On My Level” is a slow and relaxed track with an eery melody that seems to drag along with the song. The trio of televised music videos had faster tempos and the pop-energy commonly found in cliche pop hits. “On My Level” was also produced by Jim Jonsin, while the rest of the songs were produced by Stargate.

Black And Yellow

Black And Yellow (G-Mix)

Roll Up


On My Level

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Magazine Covers (Preparation Pt. 2)

For the promotion of Rolling Papers, Wiz Khalifa could be seen in six different magazines. It was very obvious that he was a high priority at Atlantic Records.






Rolling Stone

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Cabin Fever (Preparation Pt. 3)

On February 17th, two months and two days before Rolling Paper‘s release, Wiz Khalifa unleashed an EP-sized mix tape. Composed of only nine tracks, Cabin Fever was a grittier side project produced largely by Lex Luger. Usually indepedent artists making their major label debut do not give away free music so casually, especially right before an album release. The spontaneity of the act was a clever marketing strategy, it complimented Wiz’s class-clown character.

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The Debut

Rolling Papers hit shelves on March 29th. The album artwork fit with Wiz’s marijuana-laced lyrics but it lacked the creativity of his Kush & Orange Juice cover. After the online reality show, magazine covers, and a Billboard chart topping single, critics anticipated Wiz may easily sell a million copies in the first week. But what happened?
The praised producers were barely involved with the new album. I.D Labs, Stargate, Brandon Carrier, etc. replaced  the highly acclaimed producers from Kush & Orange Juice. The televised singles, giving the public a teaser for what is to come, were all exclusively produced by Stargate. The singles may have appealed to mainstream America but were the songs strong enough to draw people into stores to buy the record? Not so much. Rolling Papers sold 191,777 in its first week, far from its anticipated numbers. So why did Atlantic decide to put aside Wiz’s producers and utilize Stargate to build suspense for the album?
Rolling Papers Tracklisting
No. Title Writer(s) Producer(s) Length
1. “When I’m Gone” Cameron Jibril Thomaz, Eric Dan I.D. Labs 4:08
2. On My Level” (featuring Too $hort) Thomaz, Todd Anthony ShawJames Scheffer Jim Jonsin 4:32
3. Black and Yellow Thomaz, Mikkel S. Eriksen, Tor Erik Hermansen StarGate 3:37
4. Roll Up Nicole Longmire, Dylan Proctor, Brandon Brantley, Whitney Briggs StarGate 3:47
5. “Hopes & Dreams” Thomaz, Brandon Carrier Brandon Carrier 3:58
6. “Wake Up” Thomaz, Eriksen, Hermansen StarGate 3:46
7. The Race Thomaz, Dan I.D. Labs 5:35
8. “Star of the Show” (featuring Chevy Woods) Thomaz, Dan I.D. Labs 4:46
9. No Sleep Thomaz, Benjamin Levin Benny BlancoNoel “Detail” Fisher 3:11
10. “Get Your Shit” Thomaz, Dan I.D. Labs 4:36
11. “Top Floor” Thomaz, Andrew Wansel, Warren Felder Andrew “Pop” Wansel, Warren “Oak” Felder 3:42
12. “Fly Solo” Thomaz, Dan I.D. Labs 3:20
13. “Rooftops” (featuring Curren$y) Thomaz, Shante FranklinBrandon Green Bei MaejorClinton Sparks (co.) 4:20
14. “Cameras” Thomaz, Dan I.D. Labs 4:29
[hide]iTunes bonus track
No. Title Writer(s) Producer(s) Length
15. “Taylor Gang” (featuring Chevy Woods) Thomaz, Lexus Arnel Lewis Lex Luger 5:35
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America’s Favorite Producer

Stargate has been the most coveted production team for hits in the United States for the last decade. Songs like So Sick by Ne-Yo and Rude Boy by Rihanna have set the standards for this era of pop music. Wiz’s revel funk production that brought him to his new pop stature, was stripped from his sound. Atlantic settled for a safer sound with a veteran pop producer in hopes to appeal to a wider audience. But, from looking at the album sales, it looks like Wiz’s true fans were looking for the album to take the old artistic direction.

Stargate has produced 32 singles reaching inside the top ten of Billboard Magazine‘s Hot 100 list.

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Conclusion & Solution

The story of Wiz Khalifa’s poor record sales is not an unfamiliar one. This story is actually common place amongst indie hip hop artists wishing to make it to the big leagues. Nicki Minaj and Wale accumulated their fans from a succession of commemorated mix tapes. When a promising opportunity arose to release an album with a major label, they signed and compromised their sound, resulting in a disappointing “water-downed” record. Are they delicate ears of Americans not ready for a raw hip hop record? Do major labels need to filter and contort the regional sounds of hip hop artists? Are they halting the growth of an art form? Wale was originally known for performing his hip hop rendition of Go-Go music, a sub-genre of funk music that spawned from his Washington D.C. area. Nicki Minaj was a female rapper originating from Queens, NY with an aggressive street style reminiscent of Lil’ Kim. Regardless of their special styles, both artists rearranged their sound for their albums. Pitchfork Magazine‘s illustrates the mainstream transformation undergone by Nicki Minaj in a review of her debut album, Pink Friday. “Minaj will get praise for her depth of skills, but this album isn’t about showing off a range of talents– it’s about leaning on the ones that have worked in the marketplace.” Pitchfork believes “this generation of pop starlets is content to play outsized personalities at awards shows, photo shoots, and videos, yet stay within a sleepy comfort zone on record.”

Indie hip hop artists do not have follow the invisible rules of the mainstream hip hop industry. If artists stay independent longer, build an even stronger fan base, the labels will be forced to give in to their demands. They may not see their videos on MTV and BET from the beginning, but their time will come, with their artistic integrity intact. Supreme examples of a committed indie route to success are OddFuture and Currensy. Currensy, a rapper from New Orleans known for jumping from label to label, released an independent record last November. The album sold 14,276 copies in its first week. Oddfuture is a hip hop collective based in Los Angeles that started their own record label to keep complete creative control over their music. The group’s leader, Tyler, The Creator, debut album sold 50,249 copies in its first week. Yet, somehow, hip hop phenomenon Soulja Boy‘s third album sold an embarrassing 13,000 copies in its first week. Two years prior, Soulja’s debut album sold 117,000 copies in the first week with the lead single, “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” reaching the number one  seat on Billboard‘s Hot 100 list . The moral of this story is, you do not need a major label to get major success. Artists must not fall to the temptations of major labels, in order to fight this corrupt industry. Oddfuture and Currensy succeeded and will continue to flourish, but they will need the help of everyone if they want to fight the majors. How much of the responsibility is on us as an audience? Are we fueling a artistic movement or halting it?

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