You may not have noticed when he was rocking Diamond t-shirts and camo shorts, but Wiz Khalifa has had this rap business figured out for a long, long time now. It's understandable if you didn't catch it back then, such is life when someone is ahead of their time. Wiz conquered the industry long before his competitors realized he had the blueprint, and he's still reaping the benefits of that success all these years later.
When he truly broke through in 2010 thanks to the success of his classic mixtape Kush & OJ, Wiz had already spent years cultivating his fanbase through grass roots efforts. Small tours helped him spread the movement, and social media touched corners of the world he'd yet to visit as he became a phenomenon. In doing so, Wiz created a level of intimacy with his dedicated fanbase that other artists would kill to have, and those fans supported in the way that mattered most: with their cold hard cash.
The streaming era was still in it's infancy when Wiz decided to place a premium on his live show and merchandise sales, continuously releasing music for free, since it was readily available to anybody who knew how to work Google anyway. This emphasis not only helped Wiz cut his teeth on the stage and truly develop into an elite live performer, but also led to him cornering the market of the booming business that artist merchandise had become.
In 2011 Forbes reported Wiz was selling astronomical amounts of merch at his shows, numbers on par with pop stars like Justin Bieber, and far outpacing what his rap peers were doin in that arena. Figures like that made him a pop star in his own right, and that was before he shattered Youtube's views record with his enormous hit "See You Again."
Wiz figured out how to thrive in an era where the monetary value of music had plummeted, and in turn managed to churn out some of the biggest rap songs of the decade thanks to the fanbase he'd cultivated with those maneuvers.
Wiz is still following that blueprint, nearly a decade later and over four years since his last solo No. 1 record, as evidenced by his sold out Decent Exposure tour this summer. While most artists a few years removed from their latest smash record may tour theaters or larger clubs, Wiz did a full 29-city, large outdoor venue summer tour and his name still rings loud enough to bring some fellow headliners along to open up for him.
French Montana, Playboi Carti and Moneybagg Yo are popular enough to command their own tours, but fell in line next to a superstar of Wiz's caliber for the tour. All of the things Wiz mastered years ago were on full display, as his merch sold out, per usual, and he commanded the stage like the superstar veteran that he is.
Wiz is the embodiment of the "if you build it, they will come" mantra, building his career up for years and working his way to lofty megastar status one fan and one show at a time. There will always be a market for an artist like Wiz, because he created the market himself, and paved the road for all the rappers coming up behind him in the process. There's a way to succeed in this era of inflated streaming numbers, decreased actual sales numbers and fractions of pennies for a stream, and Wiz has been showing us that for a decade.