One morning last week as I was working on a project at home I noticed there were two movies on TV with singer Chubby Checker about the dance he helped make famous: The Twist. Of course more than forty years later you cannot mention the name Chubby Checker without following it up with some statement about the Twist. As I watched one of the movies there was a scene at a club with a mid-sized audience made up of mostly older, white couples. The Twist craze at that point was not just for young folks anymore. It quickly crossed social, economic and racial boundaries and by 1962 knowledge of the dance reached every household in the US, and many others around the world.
There have been several comparable dance and music movements throughout the years, but today I feel a similar change in musical awareness occurred with Rap music. Think about it this way: I am writing this particular entry at almost fifty years old, yet I am familiar and a fan of a lot of rap music. In fact, there are fans of rap music that are older than me today. Like the Twist, the overall urban art form has moved across several boundaries and now rap in embraced worldwide by almost every culture on earth – not just young African-American kids in large US inner cities. Also, rappers are increasingly coming from different places these days. A few weeks ago I featured young rapper Kendrick Lamar, who was born and raised in Compton, CA, a launching ground for a large number of rappers. It’s common to speak of rappers from the South Central Los Angeles, Brooklyn, Bronx and Queens in New York. Detroit has given us a few rappers as well as Chicago. Yes, even here in Miami we see many rappers who have brought international attention to the South Florida Hip Hop scene. However, how many rappers have you heard about being born in North Dakota? Try this weeks’ featured artist Wiz Khalifa.
Cameron Jibril Thomaz was born in Minot, North Dakota to military parents. Even though neither of my parents served in the military throughout my youth, I crossed paths with many children of military parents while growing up. I grew to feel their pain because most move around the country and sometimes the world, never really establishing long-term friendships. Such was the young life of Wiz Khalifa, complicated further by his parents’ divorce early in his life. Several moves around the world brought the young rapper to Pittsburgh, PA, where he would attend high school. Pittsburgh, although possessing a critical fan base of rap music, is not widely known as a haven for Hip Hop artists. I’m sure most of us can understand a rapper coming from Pittsburgh more than North Dakota. Nevertheless, we now have a twenty-five year old rapper who has been shaped by life in the city of Pittsburgh, and the rest of his childhood travels.
I recently heard him in a brief interview and he has a fairly uncomplicated view of life and family, as he will soon become a father and husband to fiancee` Amber Rose. Wiz Khalifa receives criticism because of his openness about his marijuana use, but I don’t know how different he is from other artists. The only discernible difference between Khalifa and some current and past musicians is that he does not hide his affinity for cannabis. Will he continue to openly use marijuana and rap about it on future records? Maybe not as he grows as an artist. However, no one is denying Wiz Khalifa’s talent. In fact, by the time many of you read this post, Wiz Khalifa may go from Grammy nominated rapper to Grammy winner. Keep on the lookout for more rappers from North Dakota.