It’s a little after 2:30 p.m. on a bright Sunday afternoon in New Jersey when I first watch Wiz Khalifa attempt to land an ollie. The 26-year-old Pittsburgh-born rapper is standing on a wide street that winds behind the PNC Banks Arts Center, an amphitheater off the Garden State Parkway about an hour southwest of New York City. He is here along with a half-dozen other artists and their crews on an August stop of his Under the Influence of Music Tour, and everyone has, oh, six or seven hours to burn. A handful of young photographers and band members, sweaty and shirtless, are running up an embankment or doing push-ups under the eye of a trainer. Ty Dolla $ign, an R&B singer who Wiz has helped elevate to prominence, is speeding up and down the street on a minibike. There is a small, mischievous smile on his face, as if he’s imagining a version of Mario Kart where the characters smoke blunts while they drive.
Wiz, though, is focusing on only one thing: landing the ollie over a propped-up board that has pot leaves painted on its underside. For a half hour he goes back and forth, hoping to clear the eight-inch jump by kicking his back heel and sliding his front foot forward to level off. But on every single attempt, he clips the lip of the board and nearly wipes out, his branchy limbs and blond-tipped dreads splaying in different directions, his board flying off somewhere to be tracked down by whoever happens to be standing around.
Over the course of day I spend in his orbit, Wiz ollies hundreds of times. He ollies throughout the afternoon on the street while the tour’s other artists relax in their massive, tinted busses. When the show starts around 6 p.m. he changes into a white basketball jersey and white basketball shorts and moves backstage to ollie for hours in a small space amongst stacks of suitcases. Women with perfectly done-up hair and clattering heels mill about, but Wiz’s head mostly stays down, his eyes fixated on his feet. The clack of his board hitting the floor provides the afternoon with a sort of rhythm. From behind his DJ booth, DJ Drama yells at the crowd as he introduces one of the openers, Rich Homie Quan. Clack. Ty Dolla $ign sings his radio hit “Or Nah,” which features a minute-long opening verse from Wiz himself. But he never once looks up. Clack.