"Black and Yellow" was a number one record that went six times Platinum, got nominated for multiple GRAMMYs, served as the lead single off a double-Platinum album, inspired a plethora of remixes and covers and launched the career of one of modern hip-hop's most successful acts. But if Wiz Khalifa's label had their way, it would have never happened at all.
In a new Playboy interview by Jeff Weiss, Wiz talked about Kanye (of course), Amber (of course) and smoking weed (of course-of course), but it was this passage that really caught my eye:
Jeff Weiss: Your song "Black and Yellow" reached number one on Billboard and was nominated for two Grammys. Did you know it would be a huge hit?
Wiz Khalifa: I actually did. It was crazy. As soon as they played the beat, I thought of the hook in two seconds. After [2010 mixtape] Kush & Orange Juice, I knew I had to switch up my style and do something different, but how could I do that and make the label and myself happy? So I wrote a bunch of songs about the first thing I thought of—whether it was corny or stupid, I was going to record it. But once we recorded "Black and Yellow," the label went back and forth on it. I was like, "Man, that's the song. That song is the shit." They waited all summer for me to try to record other shit, and still I was like, "That's the song!" I took it back to Pittsburgh, played it for a roomful of people and was like, "This is my new single." They were so excited to hear it. Then when I played it, they were like, "Damn, he about to lose again."
The storyline we always hear is of the label pushing an artist to leave their artistic integrity behind and make a commercial hit, but the fault in that storyline is that record labels often have no idea what songs will hit. People laughed in Kanye West's face when he first played "Jesus Walks," that song went on to become one of Kanye's biggest critical and commercial successes. Aftermath and Interscope weren't sure about releasing "In Da Club" as 50 Cent's lead single, they ended up flipping a coin to decide if they'd put it out. More recently, eleven labels had the chance to sign Desiigner and didn't—none of them saw "Panda" taking off.
Wiz Khalifa and "Black and Yellow" may seem like an odd ground to take an artistic stance on, but the fundamental truth remains. As Waka Flocka so eloquently pointed out recently, why would someone who spends most of their day in an office have a better sense of the music people are going to love than the people making the music?