Paul Wall Talks ‘Slab God’ Album, Why Houston Loves Drake and Kanye West for President [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]
When you think of Houston hip-hop, Paul Wall ranks among the city's elite. With the help of fellow rappers like Chamillionare, Slim Thug and Mike Jones, Wall put Houston on the rap map in the early 2000s. Back then, only devoted hip-hop heads and those who frequented the Loan Star State were familiar with DJ Screw's chopped-and-screwed sounds and the car culture in the hood.
While it's been about a decade since he released his debut LP, The People's Champ, and appeared on tracks like Jones' "Still Tippin" and the Kanye West and GLC-assisted "Drive Slow," the Po Up Poet is still going strong. Only this time around, with his new album, Slab God, it's more about owning his lane rather than swerving in the HOV. After 20 years in the game (which also includes a 2007 Grammy Award nomination for Best Rap Performance as a Duo or Group for his collaboration on Nelly's "Grillz"), Wall still sticks to his roots and is essentially all things Houston, a place influencing newer MCs like Drake and A$AP Rocky who love the city as much as their own hometowns.
On Slab God, Paul Wall continues to preserve the sounds of late artists DJ Screw, Pimp C and his Oakland homie The Jacka. Money, women, syrup and cars are all part of the lyrical conversation. Naturally, if you've been following the rapper's career then you know he has an affinity for riding in a souped-up slab. With the support of Snoop Dogg, Curren$Y, Devin the Dude and Lil Keke, among others on the effort, he takes you on cruise down the 610 Loop through Houston's six historic wards. This is that timeless southern hip-hop; not the "in the moment" work you'd want to chuck out the window.
For Wall, Houston's culture is everything and his dedication even spills over to his grill-making empire. He and his longtime business partner, "TV" Johnny Dang have been providing custom, iced-out grills for more than a decade. On top of creating "ridin' music," and custom grills, he's even cracked into the weed industry with his own rolling papers, strain and vaporizer.
We spoke to the 34-year-old artist in a lengthy phone interview about avoiding hip-hop trends on his new album, Houston's rising stars, his new exclusive grill designs and why he's voting for Kanye West in 2020.
The Boombox: Since your 2005 debut, The People's Champ, you've been representing for Houston, from the culture to the car scene with songs like "Sittin' Sidewayz." Why come back 10 years later with Slab God?
Paul Wall: For me, it was something I had been working on for a while. In particular, I always tried to go for a theme with mixtapes and albums. I did a few other ones. The first one I did was No Sleep Till Houston, then after the next one was #Checkseason. That one was all about getting money. After that was Po Up Poet, that one was about a drink -- codeine. Now this one is geared towards one of the things I enjoy and that's riding. One of my favorite places to listen to music is when I am riding in my slab. My favorite artists are the one I like to bump in my car loud in the trunk. I just wanted make something centered around riding music. A slab is my car of choice.
How many cars do you have now?
You know something, with a slab, it's all about fixing them up. We either give them away or sell them down the line. I done sold most of them -- the old schools. It's like an old ex-girlfriend; you only marry one.
What’s your prized one?
My favorite car is the one I'm riding now… it's a Cadillac XTS. It's my dream car. Whatever the current model the Cadillac is then that's my dream car. They have a new Cadillac coming out in the next couple of years. I can't wait to get that. I don't really name them, at times I did, but now not really.
You've managed to avoid riding the wave by continuing to create timeless music. Why was it important for you to drop something that was sonically different?
In hip-hop, sometimes we get caught up in trends. Like what ever is poppin' right now we want to do the same thing. Partially because it is influencing us and inspiring us. But after a while it gets to a point where everything sounds the same. As an artist, you can get caught up trying to keep up or, you know, you can just do your own thing. I decided a while back that I wasn't going to try to keep up with what everybody else is doing. That's something that Pimp C taught us a while back. He taught us that we will lose our fan base trying to chase another fan base. We have 350,000 to 500,000 people who are always going to rock with us, so whatever we did, if we could make them happy and do right by them or we can try to chase what mainstream is doing and follow that and get caught up and lost. When he broke it down to me like that I realized the power of what we do; reppin' for a particular culture or a sound.
Do you feel like hip-hop is missing that right now?
Some of the trends in hip-hop I do like, they do inspire me. But ultimately I don't want to sound like everybody else. I want to make music for me that I can be proud of.
What song from Slab God is representative of your state of mind in 2015?
The first song, "Swangin in the Rain" definitely. It's funny because I wrote the song in 2010. Scoop DeVille and I recorded it then. Back then, I was telling the future of what my life was going to be like. At the time I was going through some things that I am still dealing with now. It means a lot more to me now then it did at the time. I say, "I'm riding one-D cause my ace caught a case." I was talking about my best friend. He's on trial right now for murder and they are trying to give him capital murder. Another one of my other boys, he's my general for the Red Line, our car club, he's like my OG slab rider. He taught me the game. I have been riding with him since '96 and he's in the feds right now. Then there is another homie I mentioned who "popped trunk on the feds."
Watch Paul Wall's "Swangin in the Rain" Video
What is that?
That's something we do. We pull up and hit the switch on our trunk and let the people see it. He did that on a cop. He's always been in and out of jail. He's actually back in now.
In your opinion, what is it about Houston's hip-hop culture that attracts younger artists like Drake to throw events there because they feel so connected to the scene?
Houston is a city where if we take you in and we have love for you, we will ride for you until the end. Drake is one of those artists. Jas Prince signing him and bringing him to [Lil] Wayne and just the stories I heard about how Prince encouraged him when a lot of people was coming down on his style. He [Jas Prince] brought him to Wayne three times and the first two times Wayne wasn't really feeling him. Well… I don't know for sure because I wasn't there but you know the different stories you hear locally. In Houston, we ride for our peoples. We appreciate the love he [Drake] shows for our city. Another thing, is A$AP Rocky and a lot of other artists came out here and showed love to the city.
Then there are a lot of other artists who take from the culture, steal the sound, the style and they don't show love or any type of respect. To me, it reminds me of when you are writing a report. It's plagiarism if you are putting in quotes and don't attribute where you got it from. You see artists who do not give credit and continue to take from the culture -- after a while you kind of get fed up. When you see a Drake or an A$AP Rocky giving credit then he has to be commended. Especially for someone of Drake's stature. Where's he at in the game, they said he has 100 singles on the Top 100 now. To be inspired by Houston culture, we give him credit.
You have a song called "Hold It Diine for My City" on the new album. But as a veteran rapper, who are some of Houston's new generation of artists that are holding it down right now?
There are definitely a lot of them out there. I feel real proud right now at how vibrant the Houston music scene is. How many producers are coming out and at the number of DJs reppin'. Houston has a real good hip-hop scene. As far as rapping, I think Propain. He's on the album. BeatKing is definitely holding it down. Then you have people like T-Wayne and Stunna Bam, he's one of my favorites.
Slab God is your eighth album and you released it independently. How has the indie hustle changed since you left Swishahouse? What advice do you have for aspiring rappers who are trying to succeed without a label?
One of the main things I see that hasn't changed in the game is what you make it. No one is going to do it for you. Independent artists think it's a lot more money, but it also means doing a lot more work. If you don't get that you will not be successful. It's just like a song, the money comes and goes but the hustle is forever. The hustle never stops. As long as you have that embedded in your brain to never get to a point where you can relax and want to work forever then I think you will be aight.
You are considered the king of grills. Did you think 10 years ago that in 2015 they would still be a staple in hip-hop?
It's very humbling. It's a blessing. It's something I don't take lightly. It makes me want to step up for the culture. If I am the poster boy for the culture then I have to keep it up. That was my goal from the beginning; to put on for the city and represent the culture. My favorite artists inspired me… whoever was true to their neighborhood I felt it. Like Wu-Tang Clan, they couldn't have been more different than me, or Jay Z he's as Brooklyn as it gets. Even Snoop Dogg.
Listen to Paul Wall's "Crumble the Satellite" Feat. Devin the Dude & Curren$y
But it was more than just that. You took it to a whole other level. You own one of the top grill manufacturing brands in the world. How have you been able to keep that a successful business on its own? Who helps you with making sure day in and day out things run smoothly?
My homeboy, "TV" Johnny Dang -- my Asian partner -- he already was doing his thing, he was already a successful jeweler. But I just wanted to help build him up, but not as the Paul Wall jewelry brand. I don't want the success of the businesses to be based on my popularity at the moment. It's a great business and I brought something to it. But what kept it going was our business motto. Part of the jewelry game is the hustle. If you can talk a customer out of their pocket book then you came up but they didn't really get a good deal. We don't handle our business like that. It's based off of percent. If it costs "X" amount of dollars to make it then we add our 10 or 15 percent on top of that.
Our business motto is we want long-term customers. We don't want to just hit a lick off of you one time, we want you to come back. When you upgrade, when you come up off on your taxes, when you married or when it's Valentine's Day, we want you to come back. We are all about taking care of our customers and standing behind what we do.
What's the most gaudy or outrageous grill design request you've had over the years?
We've had a few. The most expensive is one of these new ones. My partner invented this set. It's called "invisible sets." It's basically where the diamonds are set so you can't see the gold plates. It looks like just diamonds in your mouth. It's been done in princess cuts, but Johnny started the baguettes. A lot of the money is in the diamond setting. What they are doing anybody can't just do. It can only be done by hand. It's a pretty penny. It costs about $2,500 for each tooth.
Which celebrity surprised you that wanted you to make their grill?
Nelly has one, an invisible set princess cut. Kanye West also got one from us and it was crazy. There are a couple we have done in the $30,000 range. T.I. has one that cost $30,000. For me, personally, it's humbling for me to see all these A-List people in hip-hop -- while I am doing my dream job -- to come to be to get a grill. Like Schoolboy Q came to me to get a grill. Not only do I like his music but I made him a grill. It means something. I take pride in every grill we do from the everyday person to a celebrity.
During the 2008 presidential election, you were in support of President Obama. Do you think he lived up to your expectations?
Definitely. I think he did several things that I have never seen or heard of another president doing. He went to visit the prisons and he spoke up on behalf of multiple time felons or people on parole whose lives have been taken away by the judicial system. It was especially important for the people who are serving time -- like 15 years for a couple rocks -- for drug-related offenses. In the hood we never, ever would have thought a president would openly speak out on those types of things. When Obama did that it touched a lot of peoples' hearts. We just wanted to salute him because the way the world works, once you are a criminal you don't mean anything because you can't vote anymore. You are worthless so that's how they treat you. They want it to continue to be that way so they speak down on criminals, they try to keep the mindset once you are a criminal you are worthless. But people who made mistakes deserve a second chance.
What do you think about Kanye West for president in 2020?
Oh yeah, I'll definitely vote for him. First of all, part of the problem with our country is we have career politicians who aren't trying to make changes for our country. This is just a career for them, so sometimes you have to have the outside perspective come in and tell us a radical idea or way to change that would be normally brushed off. You can't name a president who hasn't made mistakes. You can't name a president who did everything right. He may not get everything right, but I will vote for Kanye. He's going to get something done that no other president has done.
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