The highly anticipated and controversial appearance of hip-hop artist Wiz Khalifa had The Pavilion at Ole Miss bouncing Friday night. Herds of students wrapped around the basketball arena from the front entrance down around the parking garage on Hill Drive almost three hours before doors opened.
A’Maya Jones, a theater major from Crystal Springs, was one of the first to sprint across the tarp-covered basketball court at 8 p.m. and claim her spot in the front row. The pit soon was flooded with students, cresting past the sound board and into the stadium seats.
“I’ve been a fan as long as I can remember,” Jones said while waiting in the elbow-to-elbow front of the pit.
She reminisced on when the rapper’s single “Black and Yellow” topped the Billboard charts in February 2011, when she was in middle school.
“I’ve got my Chuck Taylors on, so he’s got to play that ‘Taylor Gang,’” she said, lifting one of her sneakers to show her loyalty.
Chants of “Hotty Toddy” and “We want Wiz” cropped up in the crowd as the students mingled before the lights went down. San Diego-based rapper Rob Stone took the stage first, hyping up the crowd with his songs including “Chill Bill” and “Rolling Stone (I’m Almost Ready).”
Around 10 p.m., Wiz Khalifa took the stage, opening with a flash of lights, fog and his 2016 collaboration with Travis Scott, “Bake Sale.”
Jones got to hear both of her requests as the rapper jaunted through a mix of some of his most popular songs from his 12-year career. At one point, Khalifa even played Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
Khalifa’s stage presence captivated The Pavilion, as he led the audience through song after song with waving hands, an echoing chant of lyrics and, at one point, an arpeggio of “yeahs.”
Before ending the show with a string of hits including “Work Hard, Play Hard,” “Young Wild and Free” and stadium pregame favorite, “We Dem Boyz,” Khalifa paused to address the student body.
“You guys have got your whole lives ahead of you, so don’t rush to make any decisions,” Khalifa advised the crowd. “If you don’t take care of yourself first, you can’t give nobody else nothing, and you guys have got a lot to give.”
He lowered the microphone to glance out at the arena of faces.
“I love the fact that everybody is smiling in here tonight,” Khalifa said.“Y’all look beautiful.”
Brady Ruffin, executive director of the Student Activities Association, said the concert was an overall success.
“Just from looking out in the audience, I could tell everyone was having a really good time,” he said.
He said he felt SAA had achieved its purpose of providing a great end to the first week of school.
Ruffin and the association will have a quick break before returning to planning for homecoming week, Hotty Toddy Holidays and the spring concert.
Despite the packed calendar of events, Ruffin said, “If the students are happy, we’re happy.”
After the lights had switched on again over the court of The Pavilion, students trekked up the rows of bleachers to the upper-level exits, buzzing with laughter. Sophomore Emanuel Foster and freshman Allen Gordon both agreed that their first Wiz Khalifa concert was a good culmination of their first week back in classes.
“It was just everything,” Gordon said.
He said he and Foster enjoyed the throwback songs from earlier in his career, such as “Roll Up” and “Young Wild and Free,” as well as his 2016 hit “See You Again.”
“He’s my favorite rapper, so I knew every lyric,” Foster said. “That was one of the best concerts I’ve been to.”
As the boys traded favorite moments from the show, A’Maya Jones came bounding out of the glass doors, clutching a T-shirt bearing the Taylor Gang logo handed to her by Rob Stone and brandishing the smile SAA and Khalifa were aiming for.