Wiz Khalifa is one of hip-hop's hottest stars right now, thanks to a convergence of successful endeavors that have millions talking and tweeting about the Pittsburgh rapper. He boasts one of the year's definitive party anthems ("We Dem Boys"), five other recent Top 40 R&B/hip-hop singles and a high-profile tune written for the current hit film "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."
Most notably, Khalifa released his highly anticipated fifth studio album on Tuesday. The offering, "Blacc Hollywood," looks like a lock to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, which would mark the first time the hip-hop hero has topped the pop charts.
All of this activity has definitely had an impact on ticket demand for Khalifa's current tour, which drew a capacity crowd of some 22,000 fans to Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View on Friday night. Tragically, the night ended with a 38-year-old man being shot to death shortly after the performance (see related news story).
Khalifa, of course, has long been a sizable attraction on the concert circuit. I saw him perform sold-out shows at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco in 2011 and the San Jose State Event Center in 2012. Yet, he's definitely graduated from playing those kinds of 6,000-8,000 capacity venues.
The numbers he's posting these days put him in very elite company -- right up there with Jay Z, Kanye West, Drake and a small handful of other hip-hop titans who can fill major amphitheaters and arenas.
Khalifa certainly had help in selling tickets at Shoreline, in the form of an overall solid bill that also included (Young) Jeezy, but it's doubtful that the headliner really needed it. It's just Khalifa's moment right now -- and tens of thousands of fans want to share in it with him.
The 26-year-old rapper, who is married to model Amber Rose, did his best to seize the moment during his mostly enjoyable set at Shoreline. Opening the show with the anthem "Work Hard, Play Hard," from 2012's "O.N.I.F.C.," Khalifa sounded as strong as I have ever heard him on the microphone. He rapped with precision and power, spinning tales like tops while tightening his grasp on the audience. He also sounded decent in the few moments when he switched from rapping to singing, although I'm not suggesting that Khalifa quite his day job just yet.
The biggest difference between this Khalifa gig and the ones I've seen in the past had to do with the production. The rapper is embracing the fact that he's a major leaguer and is working a set designed to compete with the other big boys. He's using pyrotechnics, video elements and other special effects, all of which are marginally interesting.
The truth of the matter is that Khalifa is the rare entertainer who doesn't need all the bells and whistles. He's at his best when he's simply rocking the microphone under a mere spotlight, in front of his DJ and backing musicians, and letting the words fly like sparks.
The set list was pretty solid. The highlights came in the expected moments, as the rapper unleashed such hit singles and fan favorites as "Young, Wild and Free" and "Black and Yellow." The sound was too heavy on the bass, even by hip-hop standards, but the crowd certainly didn't seem to mind. And the subject matter was quite limited, as Khalifa rhymed on and on about his favorite leafy green plant, but, again, the crowd didn't seem to mind.