Wiz Khalifa has got to be the most downright positive-thinking person in all of rap music.
"I'm awesome," he exclaimed when asked how he is doing. "I just wake up with awesomeness on the menu. I eat awesomeness for breakfast. I wash it down with a cup of awesomeness."
The 23-year-old from Pittsburgh has reason to feel so upbeat. His months-old breakthrough Atlantic Records debut, "Rolling Papers," already has sold platinum, and the first single off the album, the Pittsburgh Steelers-inspired "Black and Yellow," has sold more than 3 million copies. This week, he has two songs on Billboard's hip-hop/rap charts - the exuberantly bright "Roll Up" and "On My Level" featuring fellow rapper Too $hort.
In the eight months since he brought his "Waken Baken" tour to a sold-out Rialto Theatre audience last October, Khalifa has skyrocketed from rising talent to bona fide star. His two-week-old "Rolling Papers World Tour 2011" with up-and-comer Big Sean takes him to midsize arenas and amphitheaters around the country for most of the summer. (The Tucson stop at Casino del Sol's AVA Wednesday is a co-production between the Rialto and Phoenix promoter Universatile Music.)
"The smaller show is more intimate. You get to see me closer so my movements and what I do might be a little bit different," he said during a phone interview last week. "But when it's a bigger stage with screens and lights and things to entertain the people way, way in the back, there's more of a show, more of a production and more of an experience. We're giving people their money's worth and then some. That's the main idea, to make the show bigger and better."
Much of his rap centers on marijuana, which he admits to regularly smoking. His "Rolling Papers" album cover shows him shrouded in a smoky haze.
How much of that persona is real and how much is to nurture the image?
"I'm smoking weed right now," he said. "It's pretty real."
Do you worry that you will be targeted by police because you are so open about smoking?
"Nah. It's just weed, and at the end of the day Willie Nelson is Lord knows how old still smoking weed and still singing about it and still traveling with it. If I could at least get that sort of love, I'd be straight."
Is it true Willie slipped you a joint in New York?
"Yep. He rolled it with his own two hands and passed it to Snoop Dogg and Snoop Dogg in turn passed it to me."
There was some talk of you and Willie working together.
"Yeah, absolutely, me and Willie Nelson are going to get (together). I want to write songs with him and make some really, really unique stuff."
Do you have a timetable?
"Nah. You know, just whenever it happens, whenever it's natural. He's always touring and he's really busy, and I'm running my records and doing what I'm doing. But I think there's going to be some chill time when we both could just get a huge bowl of pot and just do it."
Has this newfound fame changed you any?
"No it hasn't changed me at all. I kind of expected it. I wanted it to happen because that's what the ideal plan is, to start off kind of below the radar then release something then kind of build up a little more, build up a little bit more. Then finally put the album out and that's when the craze starts. I was hoping for that kind of reaction, and when I got it was like cool. Now I'm on the next level, the next phase, which is building upon what people already know me for and the character they see me as."
Is the character the real Wiz Khalifa?
"Absolutely. You know, carefree, really just outgoing, fun-loving dude. I want to make other people's lives easier. ... I keep everything around me loose."
And that comes through in your music.
"Yeah, definitely a lot of fun. That's why you hear me laugh so much on there because I'm really laughing in the booth, having fun while I'm recording. ... My fans get to come and completely be themselves and feel comfortable and don't feel like they gotta hold back or be too cool."
Is there any tension between you and Big Sean because of Kanye West? (Back story: Khalifa is dating West's ex, Amber Rose, and tour mate Big Sean is a West protégé.)
"Absolutely no tension. I have (Big Sean) on the tour because he's such a good friend of mine. And there's no tension between me and Kanye, but anything that people think could be funny there has been squashed by us going on tour together. And Kanye has actually even told Sean, 'I'm down with you and Wiz doing music because you're friends, and if he's your friend, then we all looking out for each other, and that's all good.'"
Are you and Kanye friends?
"I never met Kanye. I haven't talked to him personally at all. I'm not an associate of his. I'm not saying we're not friends or anything; we just never associated."
So have you found your true love in Amber Rose?
How does your show translate to a bigger venue?
"We've got the DJ and the lights. We got the confetti cannons that go off. Everything is fine-tuned and precise. It's a real production. ... It's crazy."
Do you like Tucson?
"I love Tucson. I love Arizona in general because you have great scenery out there. ... I can't wait to come visit you guys."
If you go
• What: Wiz Khalifa in concert with Big Sean.
• When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
• Where: Casino del Sol's AVA, 5655 W. Valencia Road.
• Tickets: $25 to $40 through tickets.solcasinos.com
• Et cetera: See review online next Thursday at go.azstarnet.com/tunedin and in The Arts section on July 1.