by Alex Shtaerman
As Hip-Hop continues to evolve to encompass an ever-increasing variety of styles, subject matter and viewpoints, the torch of mainstream success is also concurrently passed – whether it’s from artist to artist, borough to borough, coast to coast, or from city to city. More often than not the torch isn’t so much passed as it is taken, grabbed or demanded from its keeper. Such was the case with the city of Houston in the months that led up to the midpoint of the new millennium’s first decade. Having already secured the benefit of a rich Hip-Hop legacy in light of earlier achievements by bonafide legends such as Scarface and the Geto Boys as well as their Port Arthur neighbors UGK, Houston’s new generation of DJs and MCs was relishing in the snowballing success of their regional efforts. Boasting mixtape and independent album sales that regularly soared into the hundreds of thousands, the dawn of 2005 placed Houston mere seasons away from basking in the national spotlight. With ensuing releases from Mike Jones, Paul Wall, Slim Thug and Chamillionaire all enjoying the benefit of national distribution, it wouldn’t be long until America ‘s fourth largest city would be crowned Hip-Hop’s new capital.
An integral part of Houston’s flourishing underground circuit prior to his mainstream success, Paul Wall honed his mic game rhyming alongside one time partner Chamillionaire as the duo released a series of successful mixtapes and albums as The Color Changin’ Click. Both MCs would subsequently go on to reap the rewards of their five year long stint as collaborators. Wall, who signed with Atlantic Records in 2005, would see his national debut LP, The Peoples Champ, land atop the Billboard top 200 that same year. Five weeks following its release The Peoples Champ would be certified platinum. Known for his affinity for expensive jewelry and, in particular, grills, the business savvy MC has also capitalized on his fashion sense by offering up his own signature line of diamond studded mouthpieces which he’s reportedly sold to A-list celebrities such as Diddy and Shaq. With a brand new LP, Fast Life, set to drop May 12th, Paul Wall is back on his grind and, according to recent reports, ready to strike a more serious tone as an artist. RiotSound.com caught up with the one time street promoter turned rapper and jeweler to see what’s crackin’ – read the interview with Paul Wall and get throwed!
RIOTSOUND.COM: A lot of Hip-Hop heads came to know you following your hugely successful 2005 national debut LP, The Peoples Champ. However, you have a long history in Hip-Hop which far predates your exploits as a major label artist. For anyone that may not know the full story, what were some of the events that led up to you dropping The Peoples Champ?
PAUL WALL: I started out doing street promotions for Def Jam and No Limit Records; this was about 1997 when I started. We’d hit all the clubs with flyers stickers and posters and also put stickers up on the streets. I always loved Hip-Hop but I never thought I would be able to make a career out of it. I started doing freestyles with my boy Chamillionaire for my homeboys Michael “5000” Watts and Ron C on their Swishahouse mixtapes. Then eventually me and Chamillionaire got a record deal and released a string of very successful albums, which in turn led to me getting a deal with Asylum [to release The Peoples Champ].
RIOTSOUND.COM: It goes without saying that artists such as yourself, Chamillionaire, Mike Jones and Slim Thug were overwhelmingly instrumental in bringing Houston to the forefront of the rap game. In your own personal view, was it the talent that drove the movement, or were there other elements to it as well?
PAUL WALL: Well, it’s a combination of everything. Timing was the most important aspect. Hip-Hop was ready for a new sound and we were blessed to have the opportunity to step in and provide it. I think there is definitely a lot of talent in Texas, but it takes more then talent to get to the top. There was a sense of camaraderie that pushed the music [forward]. It was a movement that had been building in the underground for half a decade.
RIOTSOUND.COM: When we look at the movement’s underground origins, how important were the contributions of DJ Screw (R.I.P) and Michael “5000” Watts as far as ushering in the present day era of Texas Hip-Hop as we know it?
PAUL WALL: DJ Screw created a style that had never been heard before. His [formula] of slowing down the music, putting out mixtapes and letting local talent freestyle over the tracks – that birthed a lot of careers in Texas. Michael “5000” Watts used the same technique but with different artists doing the freestyles. The Screw music is what gave Texas its own style and sound and in many respects its own identity. I can honestly say that none of us would have had careers without them
RIOTSOUND.COM: On May 12th you’ll be dropping a brand new album titled Fast Life. You’ve stated that this record will come from a slightly different angle than what everyone’s been accustomed to hearing from you in the past. As Fast Life has been in the works for some time, how would characterize the recording process for this LP, and also, what can the fans expect when they go cop it?
PAUL WALL: I think most of my fans have been down with me for a long time and I think it’s time to try a few new sounds and styles to add to my resume. It’s the same Peoples Champ that fans love but you can definitely hear maturity and growth throughout the album. When we record, our plan is always to try it till we get it right. When I go into the studio it’s usually just me and my homebody T Farris. Usually we just listen to tracks until we find something we like, and when we do we brainstorm ideas.
When we first start on an album things are always a little rusty, so we record on a daily basis and keep working until we get into a zone. Sometimes we record two or three completely different songs to the same track just for the sake of trying something new and also to get a sense of what direction we should go in. On this album the general theme is the fast life, so most of the music is centered around being a grinder and a go getter, chasing after paper non stop. So you hear that in the music.
RIOTSOUND.COM: You’ve recently expanded your reach outside of Hip-Hop by touring with Fall Out Boy as well as partnering with Travis Barker and Skinhead Rob to form the group Expensive Taste. How would you describe the style of music that Expensive Taste makes?
PAUL WALL: It’s definitely Hip-Hop music. Travis does all of the production and Rob and I do all of the rapping; it’s a different style though. Being around Rob and Travis has helped me grow a lot. When I see the way they work and how serious they take music, it’s inspiring to me to be able to get in there with them and grind like that. Right now we don’t have a record deal for Expensive Taste so we’re focusing on the clothing line we own together, you can check that out at www.IGotExpensiveTaste.com – but you will definitely hear some ET tracks on the Fast Life .
RIOTSOUND.COM: Aside from music, you are also well known for your role in popularizing grills as a mainstream fashion accessory. You presently have your own line of signature grills and you’ve reportedly sold expensive mouthpieces to the likes of Diddy, Shaq and Kanye West, among others. How did you get into the jewelry business and what’s involved in crafting grills to suit some of the world’s wealthiest celebrities?
PAUL WALL: I always liked jewelry, so I started doing promotions for my boy Crime who made grills in Houston . He showed me how to make grills and eventually we all teamed up with Johnny Dang and that’s when we really took it to another level. The most important thing to me is to make sure the customer is satisfied. So [when it comes to making a set of grills] we make sure we get it right. We give all of our clients the same respect and attention that we give celebrities. I think that’s very important
RIOTSOUND.COM: One of the most striking things about your career has been your willingness to try new things and adapt to a variety of circumstances. How important has that type of approach been in actualizing your success?
PAUL WALL: I’ve seen artists come and go and I don’t want to be one of those types. So it’s necessary for me to keep an open mind in my music as well as my business. People are annoying when they think they know everything. Even the President has a top notch team that helps him make decisions. It’s so important to keep an open mind and try new things.
RIOTSOUND.COM: When it comes to Paul Wall, what else should all the fans be looking out for?
PAUL WALL: My album the Fast Life comes out on May 12th. Other than that, you can check me out on www.MySpace.com/PaulWall and Twitter @PaulWallBaby. Also check out www.GrillsByPaulWall.com and www.IGotExpensiveTaste.com. Thanks for the love and support.