For 22-year-old Pittsburgh, Pa., rapper Wiz Khalifa, the sold-out crowd that turned up for his Friday night (Mar. 26) show at the Fillmore New York at Irving Plaza symbolized one thing: vindication. "I'm just proud that a n---a from Pittsburgh could do it," he told the throng of sweaty teens in mid-set.
Last July, Khalifa parted ways with Warner Bros. Records after being signed to the label for two years, during which time he notched a memorable single in 2008's "Say Yeah," a rap redux of the 1999 trance hit "Better Off Alone" by Alice Dejay. No full-length album ever materialized, though. Instead, he built and maintained his buzz through mixtapes, releasing the acclaimed "How Fly," a stoner-rap collaboration with New Orleans rapper Curren$y, in August. The multiple genre-spanning "Burn After Rolling" followed in November, leading up to the release of Khalifa's second official album, "Deal Or No Deal," on indie label Rostrum Records just weeks later. The album reached the top of iTunes' hip-hop albums chart and proved that Khalifa's freebie releases had paid off -- just as they continued to on this night, the latest stop of Khalifa's 20-date tour.
Before Khalifa hit the stage, though, another major-label castoff -- Alabama rapper YelaWolf -- made the most of his 30-minute set, delivering a combination of rapid-fire rhymes and rock-ready choruses over bouncy Southern synths that threatened to overshadow the headliner. "Good 2 Go," from YelaWolf's breakthrough mixtape, "Trunk Muzik," incited a mosh pit in the rear of the floor level. In stark contrast, two girls made their way to the stage to dance with Yelawolf for "Box Chevy Pt. 3," the slinky jam that followed. By that point, he appeared anything but a rapper, shedding his red bubble vest in favor of a black tank that fully exposed his mulleted mohawk. And during "Mixing Up The Medicine" -- the song most familiar to the audience since it's a collaboration with Harlem MC Juelz Santana -- he jumped into the crowd to deliver his rhymes.
Khalifa's set, on the other hand, was light on rock star antics. He merely stalked the stage and occasionally jumped up and down to keep the crowd entranced. "Cabin Fever" was first number of the hour-long performance, and a considerable number of fans rapped along, impressive for a month-old song from a yet-to-be-released mixtape. "Make some noise if you got 'Deal Or No Deal,'" Khalifa said, receiving a rapturous reply from the crowd.
Alternating between songs from his latest album and mixtapes, Khalifa performed diverse material with few, if any, hiccups. "The Thrill, which samples "Walking On a Dream" by electro-pop duo Empire of the Sun, preceded "Air Born," a freestyle over Camp Lo's 1997 funk-rap classic, "Luchini." Curren$y joined him onstage for brief cameo during "In The Middle" and their anthem "Car Service," both of which hail from "How Fly." Khalifa signed off with album selections "Goodbye" and "This Plane," during which he asked the crowd to put their hands in the air. Following his lead, most fans formed the familiar hand signal of Khalifa's Taylor Gang clique.