Kings of the Stoned Age

Rapper Wiz Khalifa carries on a long (cough, cough) tradition

If rap music sells the ultimate escape from everyday life — girls, money, crime, bling — then stoner rap is an escape from reality altogether. Lil Wayne claims to be an alien. MF Doom plays a masked supervillain. And last year, New Orleans rapper Curren$y bragged that he was leaving his bags behind on his otherworldly trip.

Wiz Khalifa, Curren$y's more earthbound occasional rhyming partner, never leaves the planet — at least not without the help of some mind-altering substances. "On a kush clock, there's always time to smoke," he rhymes on "Still Blazin'," a cut from his popular 2010 mixtape Kush & Orange Juice.

That pretty much sums up stoner rap's directive.

The genre was big in the first part of the '90s — think Dr. Dre's The Chronic and everything Cypress Hill recorded. But it fizzled out by the end of the decade, only to rise again over the past few years, like a phoenix from a spliff.

Houston cult rapper Devin the Dude is partly responsible for keeping things rolling during the fallow years, showing up on tracks by De La Soul and Dr. Dre and pulling in heavyweights like Andre 3000 and Snoop Dogg on his own records.

And then there's Lil Wayne, whose delivery (there's lots of Jamaican patois on 2007's terrific Da Drought 3 mixtape) and subject matter (we're pretty sure he's rapping about getting high half the time) put him in good company with other music legends like Sun Ra and George Clinton, who also have an affinity for outer space and mind-altering substances. Wayne's lines about "playing basketball with the moon" and getting "so high I could eat a star" helped pave the way for the recent hip-hop haze.

Pittsburgh's Wiz Khalifa is much more concrete in his approach. His story is a familiar one. For years, he bounced around a music industry that had no idea what to do with him. Like so many other rappers, he began releasing free mixtapes online. The latest, Kush & Orange Juice, was a hit. He quickly followed it up with the single "Black and Yellow," which recently climbed to No. 6 on Billboard's Top 100. All this attention has led to a deal with Atlantic Records, which will release Wiz's new album in the spring.

Wiz likes to rap about the stuff in his pipe and kitchen, and his favorite sports teams — three of which happen to wear his hometown's preferred colors. And his requests are simple enough: "Why can't everyone just smoke like me?" he asks on "Still Blazin'."

Rappers used to get shot and killed over the blurred lines of their reality-baiting lyrical beefs. But post-recession rap gives way to pure fantasy. Rick Ross may claim to be rolling like drug lord Big Meech, but Wiz flaunts the somewhat embarrassing reality: "Rollin' blunts of 50, stuck in my mom's basement," he raps.

(But Wiz keeps it real, like any rapper. He was busted for drugs in November — walking away on $300,000 bond — in the middle of a tour called Waken Baken.)

Wiz and Curren$y share one inexhaustible quest that's quite modest by hip-hop's standards: They just want to arrive in "another time zone," usually so they can light up — though Curren$y doesn't even wait for the plane to land on his song "Flight Briefing."

Curren$y, a Lil Wayne protégé, frequently teams up with Wiz on the mixtape circuit. He's the missing link between Wayne and Wiz, combining brain-stretching psychedelic imagery ("Airborne Aquarium") and a grounded lifestyle (boasting about his Xbox NBA roster and a condo full of snacks). "The Day," a bizarre revolution fantasy about storming out on his label for not letting him toke up in their offices, is somewhere between the two.

Never mind Kush & Orange Juice's laidback subject matter; Wiz's mixtape is speedier and more versatile than you'd think. He raps over a Paramore-style power ballad on "We're Done" and over blunted reggae on "Still Blazin'." He hasn't reached a consistent style yet, but mixtapes are all about feeling your way through, just to see what sticks. No matter where Wiz Khalifa lands, it's safe to assume he'll be on the kush clock.