“Wiz” is short for “wisdom” and “Khalifa” is Arabic for “successor”. So you might assume a Wiz Khalifa gig would be about imparting knowledge to the brethren in the righteous tradition of consciousness-raising rap. How wrong.
The first inkling that self-improvement might be low on the agenda came with the powerful fug of weed smoke that engulfed your correspondent on entering the venue. It was as though an old-fashioned London pea-souper with psychotropic properties had formed in the Brixton Academy.
Snatch squads of security guards made fruitless forays into the crowd in pursuit of miscreant smokers. The occasional youth was dragged out with glazed eyes and lolling limbs for medical attention. On stage Wiz had a message for his followers. “What’s a good party,” he cried out, to throaty cheers, “without the good weed?”
The Pittsburgh rapper makes no bones of his enthusiasm for marijuana: indeed, he has boasted in the past of an improbable $10,000-a-month smoking habit. He thus joins a long tradition of “stoner rap”, the flipside to gangsta rap’s preoccupation with selling drugs.
There is a snag here. Banging on about getting high isn’t the most thrilling subject matter, especially when, as in Wiz’s case, the only tonal variation is to boast about how rich he is (“Got a hundred grand in my ashtray”). A sense of treading water runs through his latest album O.N.I.F.C., the follow-up to his 2011 major label breakthrough Rolling Papers; and despite opening brightly with the swaggering mixtape number “Bout Me”, tonight’s show also stuttered.
One problem was what sounded like an authentically stoned decision to put jazzy keyboard vamps in the background of most of the songs, an effect at odds with the rapid flow of Wiz’s rapping. Messy collisions such as “Remember You” ensued; the rapper’s queries as to whether we were “ready to party” took on an increasingly quizzical quality.
But beneath the stoner-shtick Wiz has a pragmatic side (“I got so much money,” runs one of his raps, “I should start a bank”). He set about upping the atmosphere, stripping down to his shorts and picking up the tempo, typified by the lithely grinding beat of “On My Level”. Within the fog of smoke the desired party atmosphere took hold. Credit to Wiz: he can do self-improvement after all.