When Wiz Khalifa looks back on his Kush & Orange Juice mixtape, which was released five years ago on April 14, 2010, the Pittsburgh MC thinks about how he was impacted by some of rap’s greatest albums.
"I was always a fan of classic hip-hop like Nas, Jay Z and [the Notorious B.I.G.], Reasonable Doubt, Illmatic and Ready To Die,” Khalifa told MTV News during an interview at the Palladium in Hollywood, California on Saturday. “So it’s like, ‘How do you make that classic? How do you get your classic album?”
As he drives down memory lane with Kush & Orange Juice, Khalifa sees what very well could be his own ‘classic’ effort. It's a project that certainly changed his life.
But unlike the albums he listed by Nas, Jigga and Biggie, this wasn’t his first release.
"I made so many projects before Kush & Orange Juice,” he recalls. "I did probably 9 projects before that.”
He’s right. This was his tenth release if you count the many mixtapes and albums he released since 2005’s Prince of the City: Welcome To Pistolvania. But to many, K&OJ stood out far more than any of his previous works. In turn, it either solidified Wiz’s status in the game or acted as an introduction into Khalifa-land for the uninitiated. Thanks to Wiz’s unbelievable web savvy, Kush struck fire online and caught the attention of bloggers and critics.
Entertainment Weekly, for instance, called Kush & Orange Juice "difficult to resist.” Meanwhile, Pitchfork celebrated Wiz’s charisma and his undeniable “great ear for beats.” Later, in a March 2013 retrospective list of rap’s best mix tapes of all time, Complex called it the "truest expression” of Khalifa’s artistic vision - this despite the mainstream success that Wiz attained years after the project’s release. That support and acclaim from fans and writers was redeeming for Wiz.
“It’s pretty cool that everybody labels that as my classic,” he said. "I put a lot of time and energy into it. To know that it came off exactly how I wanted it to and put me where I wanted to be in my career was really dope.”
The mixtape also allowed Wiz to break out with what’s become his signature smooth style, a move that helped him stand above many of his peers with a charismatic and mellow approach.
"It was sort of me coming to change what I had seen and what I knew there was a void in the game of,” he said. "That was that ride and smokin' music, that chillin’, relaxin’ sh-t that I do on the everyday anyway. That was my angle when I did that.”
He attributes part of that to his city, the same one he repped while gaining nationwide acclaim when he released 2010’s "Black and Yellow." "Just being in Pittsburgh and catching my own wave, I felt comfortable,” he explains. "At that time, I was just able to kind of shut out the whole world.”
By doing so, he also opened the world’s eyes to what he was nurturing back home for many years. "Been here for a minute, you n---as just catching on,” he rhymed on Kush & Orange Juice’s “The Statement." "Master of the craft, I've grown.”
But that wasn’t the only prophetic line Wiz had on the song. "Know we belong on the top but we ain’t trippin’,” he said on the track. “We’ll get there in a minute.”
The year after Kush & Orange Juice dropped, everything changed. Wiz was up for “New Artist of the Year” at the American Music Awards and at the MTV Video Music Awards. That same year, he won “Best New Artist” at the BET Awards. In 2012, he took home “Top New Artist” at the Billboard Music Awards. Since then, he’s been nominated for at least one Grammy every year. How did he make it all happen?
You can just look at this 2010 interview with a rising Khalifa barely coming of age to let him tell it. "Just staying in the studio," the young MC said at the time. "Always working. Always putting out mixtapes and material for people to listen to.
"If something does well, you've gotta keep going after that," he added. "You can't get comfortable right there and think that's it. So, constantly working and reinventing myself, making smart business moves and having great fans."
In just 5 years since Kush & Orange Juice, Khalifa’s managed to stay true to those words. And he's reach the top on more than one occasion just like he visualized in his rhymes for “The Statement.” In doing so, he’s continued to master his craft, continued to reinvent himself. As he carries on with even more growth, at just 27 years of age, it’s hard not to think about the heights he’s sure to reach in the next five years.
Here's another chance to listen to Kush & Orange Juice.