/  04.26.2022

Keyboardist CJ Branch has played keys on the road with Wiz Khalifa for more than four years and has seen how Wiz’s stardom can turn a simple mistake into a near riot

“The cameraman for Wiz at the time went live on his Instagram, showing the pool and whatever we were doing. Then, in maybe about 10 minutes, there was a crowd of people right outside of the hotel yelling, ‘Taylor Gang,’” Branch told REVOLT. 

In this installment of “Tour Tales,” Wiz’s keyboardist talks about what it’s like to play “Weed Uno” with Wiz, Wiz’s impressive freestyling ability on stage, and what he’s learned from Jill Scott and her band.

How did you end up in Wiz Khalifa’s band?

I’m from Philadelphia, and a lot of guys from Philadelphia play for a lot of the artists in the industry. I was friends with two of the guys in the band and at the time, the band was going through a little transition. The homie reached out to me and was like, ‘Yo, we may need you.’ I thought about it for a second, and Wiz had just gotten back from Brazil or something like that. He came back for a show on 4/20 in 2018. I took this opportunity, and I’ve been with him ever since. It’s been amazing.

How did that first show go?

The first show was the 4/20 show. It was in [Kennewick, Wash. at the Toyota Center]. It was amazing. It was my first time meeting a lot of the guys. Everyone was welcoming. The thing that stood out was it didn’t feel like I was on a job. It felt like I was being welcomed into a family if that makes any sense. I’ve been doing this for a minute now, and this was the first time I’ve ever been on a job that felt like I was a part of the team.


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What have you learned Wiz likes for his shows as you’ve performed with him over the years?

The thing that surprised me the most was how musical Wiz is. He wants you to play. He wants you to add more and in my experience with rappers, they kind of want you to lock into the music, which is the right thing to do. It enhances their records on stage. But Wiz is like, ‘I want you to enhance the records, do your thing and then add some shit they may not expect.’ He’s always progressing. I don’t even want to call him a rapper at this point, just out of respect for everything I’ve seen him do.

What’s your favorite song of Wiz’s to perform?

He has so many. I think my favorite song to play is ‘Up’ because we’re rehearsing Kush & OJ. What I did to add more to that is I added a lot of bright synth leads and a lot of exotic sounds. That song has a lot of sounds, and it’s very spacey. So, I’m able to experiment with the keyboards that I’m using and just add my own touch to the song, and he lets me do it.

Speaking of Kush & OJ, you all just performed the mixtape at Dreamville Festival. What was that like?

It was amazing. Any time we get to do a Kush & OJ set, it’s nostalgic for so many people. It’s always good energy. So being able to do that at a festival was a moment not only for me but I’m pretty sure for the fans, too.


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How detailed is Wiz with his live show?

Wiz is very detailed with everything, and it translates into the new music. He gives us freedom, but he brings it to us right there in rehearsal if he’s hearing something. He’ll let us work it out, give his input, and go back and forth. It’s a team thing, and he’s like a team leader.

What are some moments where you had to adapt to something going wrong on stage?

The memorable moment was when we were doing a run in Europe and were playing at this huge festival. Sometimes the equipment overseas is different from how it is over here in the state. So, we’re playing a song where I’m using a pretty basic sound. Midway through the song, the keyboard just drops on the stand in Europe, in front of maybe 60,000 people on camera on a jumbotron. All I did was turn to the side and immediately start playing the other keyboard and thank God, for whatever reason, it had the same sound as the other song, so I was able just to jump right in. We didn’t even acknowledge it. We just kept going and laughed about it afterward.

How does playing in the band work when it comes to surprise guests? Do you practice with them beforehand?

For the most part, we get a heads up. It’s never last minute. Most of the songs have a live arrangement but when we have a special guest, we’re either doing a live arrangement that we rehearsed or playing over the top of the original song and just accompanying the artist and not doing too much.


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What’s the most memorable show you’ve done with Wiz?

Maybe my first show with Wiz in Camden because it was close to home, and a lot of my family was there. As long as I’ve been doing this, that was the first time a lot of them got to see me play, and Wiz gave us a little shout-out.

What’s on the rider backstage?

It’s pretty simple. We always have grinders and lighters backstage for the bud. Other than that, we have basic water and a few other things.

What’s your favorite smoking story with Wiz?

We were on tour somewhere none of us really knew that many people. Before we left, Wiz decided to play this game called ‘Weed Uno’ that he and his homie Light, who is also in Taylor Gang, made up. That’s probably the highest I’ve ever been on a Wiz tour.

You have to explain to me what Weed Uno is.

Weed UNO is a legendary game. Anytime you have to draw a card, that’s how many times you have to hit the joint. Of course, we smoke all papers, so that’s going right to the dome. So, if someone makes you pick up eight cards, you have to take eight puffs to the face without stopping. If you stop, you have to start all over again. I kept messing up, and there were times when I had to keep going and keep going, and people kept making me draw cards. That’s the highest I have ever been.


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What is the greatest talent you bring to Wiz shows?

I think my greatest talent is being able to do the job that I was asked to, and that’s to play the keyboard. I bring very relaxed energy. Since day one, I found my place in the gang, and I’ve been progressing on this team. As far as the music is concerned, I try to make sure the fans are hearing what Wiz wants the fans to hear, as far as how he may want the records to be enhanced musically. He’s always thinking years ahead of the game.


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You all did the “Decent Exposure Tour” with Playboi Carti and French Montana.  What was the camaraderie like backstage?

It was good, man. On any Wiz tour, he just sets an atmosphere of just good energy. There were so many cool things about that tour. Jack Harlow was on that tour. I was able to tour with a good friend of mine named [Mike Moore] who plays for Kid Cudi, but he was playing for French Montana. So, it was a good vibe.

What are some fan interactions you remember?

I remember when we went to Brazil, and we were all chillin’ down by a pool at the hotel. The cameraman for Wiz at the time went live on his Instagram, showing the pool and whatever we were doing. In maybe about 10 minutes, there was a crowd of people right outside of the hotel yelling, ‘Taylor Gang!’

One of my favorite performers ever is Jill Scott. You’ve performed with her. How would you describe her live show?

It’s musical. Jill gives an experience. I’ve just seen her transition from different bands and background singers, and each time she’s changed her squad, it’s always been fantastic. She knows what she wants. She knows what emotions she wants to create on stage. I’ve modeled my playing around everything Jill and her band are doing. I’m watching and learning. A while ago [on Jan. 20, 2017], there was a benefit concert for a guy named Jeff Bradshaw, and Jill Scott was the headline performer. We had to put the band together and go over her music. We knew she would do a certain amount of songs; we just didn’t know how she was going to do them. We learned arrangements and everything. Jill came in before the show, talked to everyone, and was very polite instead of telling the band she wanted ‘boom, boom, boom.’ She talked about a scenario and was like telling us a story. Then, she was like, ‘Okay, boom. Now, I want you all to play according to this.’ We went into rehearsal for a little bit, she liked it and then from there, we rocked the show, and everything was good.


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What’s the most impressive thing you’ve seen an artist do on stage?

Seeing Wiz freestyle with his band in front of 50,000 people was pretty intense. On the spot, he’d be like, ’You start a beat, you start a bassline, you play on the keys, and I’m going to spit this little 16, and then we’re going to go into the next song.’ That was pretty intense for me.

What do you have coming up for the rest of the year?

I have some stuff coming out in the production world. I’ve made some string arrangements on a couple of things. Wiz is going on the road again, which’ll probably take me into the next year. 


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