See pics of Wiz Khalifa and friends in our slideshow.
Wiz Khalifa, Big Sean feat. Trae Tha Truth & Bun B Reliant Arena July 6, 2011
Wiz Khalifa can smile now.
The Pittsburgh rapper had a minor hit in 2007's "Say Yeah," a breezy dance cut laced all over Dutch trance act Alice DeeJay's "Better Off Alone." That single brought him some attention. After seeing the success of "Say Yeah," Warner Bros. pressured Wiz to make more of the same.
Oh dear. He said "no" and left Warner. When he returned via Atlantic to release this year's Rolling Papers, it was strictly on his own terms.
The same year Wiz made a splash with "Say Yeah," Kanye West signed Big Sean as the first artist on his G.O.O.D. Music roster. Ye fell in love with Sean's style after hearing him freestyle at a Detroit radio show, and though most dismissed him as "Kanye lite," he's edged his way into rap stardom.
Big Sean's "My Last" and Wiz Khalifa's "When I'm Gone" perfectly capture their commonality. Both share a sense of pride in overcoming the odds stacked against them. They seem even keener on the idea of enjoying the result while you can.
Wednesday night, both MCs brought their blissful sound to Houston. The crowd was young, the music remarkably accessible.
Sean played tunes from his new album, Finally Famous, two Jesus pieces dangling from his neck, his pants struggling to hang on to his waist, his prepubescent voice projecting through Reliant Arena. Big Sean's music is about the rush; the rush of celebrity, the rush of electricity, the rush of unbridled joy.
It's also about revealing more details about his sex life than you want to know, with the dick jokes out front. "My Last" enlivened the crowd even without his collaborator Chris Brown. One thing about Sean: he's committed to hand gestures. When he says, "Put her hands down my pants, now she rocking Sean's john," for example, he literally slid his hand down his pants to rock his john.
"Houston, you support your own, right?" the D-town rapper asked before bringing out Kirko Bangz and Bun B to show H-town some love.
Wiz took the stage around 9:30 to the backdrop of "When I'm Gone." He started by giving fans a tour of his mixtapes. "How many of y'all know my mixtapes?" Oscillating between Kush & OJ and the Lex Luger-inspired Cabin Fever, Wiz had the whole building shaking. While it wasn't as intense as, say, a Jay-Z concert, we weren't bored once by any of the 26 songs in an hour and 15 minutes. Hands down, the finest moment was "Taylor Gang" which had everyone animated.
As strong as his mixtapes are, Rolling Papers is the reason Khalifa can now play before a stuffed crowd at Reliant Arena, which was apparent when he lunged into the album that made him a superstar with ease, fans cheering ecstatically. He now seemed less like a rapper and more like a pop star. With his mike mounted and his Web-famous accessory Amber Rose onstage watching, Wiz clapped and waved from side to side. Amber Rose in the flesh, by the way, is as good as advertised.
Rocks Off's own Marco Torres remarked that the only thing missing was a banjo. This was Wiz in his element. He even looked as youthful as the crowd, whose average age was somewhere around 19.
Wiz's poetry is lightweight, but his slick melodies will keep you nodding. It's the stuff you overlook on songs you can't get enough of. Preserved in pop concision for half a decade now, his goofy, radio-friendly sound has barely stiffened.
The scrawny rapper trampolined across the stage, bouncing and leaping into the air attimes or firing water guns at the crowd. Wiz exhumed the type of rich, cartoonish, pop-drenched, resolutely unhinged energy that now seems like a novelty in live rap, all while wearing an audible grin.
It's been a while since we saw someone rap this much fun. It was contagious, too; other rappers were dancing and singing along, fans were trying to touch the ceiling during "Taylor Gang."
Better still was when, in the middle of "Roll Up," Wiz danced and rubbed all over Amber Rose. He brought it all together with "Black & Yellow" as black and yellow confetti rained on the crowd.
Personal Bias: Amber Rose is our future ex-wife.
Overheard in the Crowd: "Boy, why you gon' stand in my face when I'm tryin' to look at that ass?"
Random Notebook Dump: It was weird hearing songs like "One Roll" and "Still Blazin'" without seeing any doobies in the air.
BIG SEAN SET LIST
High All of the Lights (Freestyle) Phone Numbers (This is a Wiz Khalifa song, but since Wiz wasn't planning on performing it, Sean jumped all over it. Weird, but OK.) I Do It Memories Pt. 2 Dance (Ass) Marvin & Chardonnay So Much More My Last
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WIZ KHALIFA SET LIST
When I'm Gone Cabin Fever Gang Bang Car Service That Good Bar The Thrill In the Cut Gettin' Paid (with Trae tha Truth) Still Blazin' Never Been Mezmorized Taylor Gang The Race Wake Up Fly Solo Racks Roll Out Tootsie Roll Roll Up Black and Yellow Ink My Whole Body