Interview By Maurice Bobb
Anybody that's ever broken up knows that the shit is brutal. But try doing it in the public eye and it becomes messier than a sewage truck spill on the interstate. Long before diamond-grilled rapper Paul Wall saw success with breakout hits like "Still Tippin'," "Grillz," and "Drive Slow" and Chamillionaire blew with "Turn it Up" and the Grammy-winning "Ridin' Dirty," the two Houston-bred MCs were a formidable duo bubbling on the underground scene with a unique sound ready to raise to a crescendo. But creative and personal differences—and meddling by who? Mike Jones—murked the collective's swag and the group split acrimoniously like the Fat Boys in 2004.
But now that they're both caked up, eating good and time has passed, Wall and Koopa decided to dead the beef and kicked off their "In Love With My Money" Tour at Austin's annual SXSW Music Festival. Complex caught up with the newly reunited partners in rhyme on their spankin' new tour bus after just blowing up the spot as headliners for the "Best in Texas" showcase, where they publicly apologized to a legion of live-music fans for beefing before launching into their respective hits. Like most of you, we wanted to see if their first performance together in six years and recent "Kiss and Make Up" act was live or Memorex status...
Complex: You guys finally stopped beefing and are on tour together. How did it happen?
Paul: It took a long time and us growing. You know, we started off as a group and a lot of times when you go your separates ways, a lot of people say, "Oh you can't do it without him" and so you wanna prove them wrong. I know for me, I wanted to prove everyone wrong and prove that I could make it on my own. And the fact that we both became successful individually, we just proved everybody wrong that said we needed each other. For us to be able to come back together and do this show together and do this tour together and make music together and to even be friends again, it's a big step for us 'cause we definitely had big differences.
Cham: We had been bumping into each other a lot. It's kinda been died down for a little bit now but we just kinda needed that stamp of approval. I think the tour kinda just solidifies it for other people. It's not like today we just stopped beefing, we stop beefing along time ago, but nobody believed us. But this is like a real big step. We on the same tour bus right now, that in itself is really big. I mean Paul walking around with his shirt off and I'm like, man, ain't nothing changed, huh? [Laughs] That's a big step. But for the most part, that's pretty cool. We've come back full circle.
Complex: This was your first time performing on stage together in six years. How was it?
Cham: It was pretty cool, man. Especially being in Austin at SXSW, you know, considering the fact that two or three years ago, we were both here at SXSW and we walked past each other and we weren't talking to each other. Now to see us on the same stage headlining together, that's pretty big. We appreciate the opportunity.
Paul: It was a lot of fun, you know, for me, I was just laughin', gigglin'.
Cham: Forgettin' your lyrics [laughs].
Paul: I was like damn, we gon' go out here and have a lot of fun out here on stage. It was a lot of fun. We know we have a job to do to perform, but it was a lot of fun being up there with him.
Complex: Was it like old times?
Paul: It's not gon' be like one show and it'll all be back like it was, but hopefully by the end of the tour, we'll have a lot more chemistry like that.
Cham: We'll be crowd surfing.
Paul: Yeah, it takes time because when you're apart for so long, you can't just you put two artists on stage together who haven't performed together in like 6 years. So you gotta get back in the swing of things.
Complex: You guys broke up and then blew up individually. How did each of you feel when you heard the other one the radio with a big hit or watching the other have success?
Cham: Damn, that's an original question right there, man.
Paul: Well for me, I think, out of sight, out of mind. So for a while, it seemed like I had a couple of radio hits that were poppin' before his were, so he was more popular on the mixtapes when we went our separate ways. Then "Still Tippin'" came and "They Don't Know" and "Sittin' Sideways," so I kinda had a little bit more radio hits at first. So I'm thinkin', Man, I ain't even worried about Chamillion' 'cause I'm feelin' like I'm bigger than that. So when you hear that ["Ridin' Dirty"], all of a sudden it's put in my face that he got a song that's a hit too, and it's like just a lil bit of jealousy, especially for me. The main time was when we was at the MTV Awards and he won that award.
Cham: That boy givin' a real answer!
Paul: Yeah, you just find yourself gettin' caught up and jealous. I found myself gettin' caught up.
Cham: In the hype and people talkin'.
Paul: Yeah, it's jealousy 'cause I never won an award. I never won any award, ever, except for a Houston Press award, but other than that, I never won an award. So for him to win the big award for Album of the Year or whatever it was, man, it was a lil' bit of jealousy there. And it started off as a small seed and it just eats at you and eats at you. So it built up and I had a couple of my homeboys see me down and we realized, What do I have to be jealous of? I have my own success. I can't compare my success to his and vice versa 'cause we both had success. So just 'cause he won an award doesn't mean anything other than he won an award and I should be congratulating him 'cause the bigger he gets, the better it is for me because when people think of him, a lot of people think of me and vice versa. I just remember my homeboy got married in Cancun, so we went to Cancun and I remember my boy T Farris gave me this beat to this song I had called "Break 'Em Off" and he said, "I want you to write to this song." And the verses just wouldn't come out 'cause I had this mental block. I went in the studio and I'm thinkin', Damn man, why I can't win an award? And it took a while for me to really just...it took a lot of praying, "God just why I can't let this go, man?"
Cham: And then "Break 'Em Off" came.
Paul: Yeah, but this how it came though, man. I just kept thinking, Man, why I can't just cant let this go? Why I got something inside of me that I just can't let this beef go? And I talked to T Farris and he said "Why you can't just congratulate him? Why you gotta be jealous?" And I was like, He right. I didn't have his information at the time but I hit his manager at the time and said, "Hey man, please tell Chamillion congratulations and I'm happy for him."
Cham: I was actually thinkin' it was something behind that. I said, "Man, tell me what he said, what he really said."
Paul: As soon as I pushed send and sent it, man, it's like a monkey being lifted off your back. It was just a big weight off my heart and then in 30 minutes, "Break 'Em Off," I wrote the whole song. It's just amazing to see that when you get over your own inner demons or jealousies you have, its amazing to see what can come of it.
Paul: That's my answer.
Cham: That's funny because as big as my song was, I never performed at an awards show. Ever. I remember seeing Paul, Slim Thug, Mike Jones and everybody and I was like, Man, them boys at award shows on stage. I think one time they had a car on stage with 'em and I was like, Wow. It was like, that's a scary place to be when you sittin' there thinking about all this work you put in for a decade strong and in the streets underground, trying to get to a certain level and these boys just catapult outta here. I'm talking about "Still Tippin'" came out and like everything Paul was jumpin' on with like, freakin' Nelly! And you like, Aw, man! You had to hit me with the Nelly? Hit me with the Kanye West? Aww man, ain't no way now, we need to quit, it's over for us. But meanwhile, we in the public like, "Yeah man, we 'bout to shut them down." And meanwhile, we over here shakin' like, Man, that boy just got on Rap City man, freestyling? But we just stayed focused. It just shows you how far you can come when you focus on your craft and just trying to get it. He said the same thing. And you just have to stay focused because a lot of things will break your confidence. But if you stay focused and want it bad enough you can achieve. I know that sounds like a PBS special, but it's true, straight up.
Paul: But you know what man? I think that's the competition aspect of it, where you wanna do better for yourself. The bigger I see him get, that just motivates me to get bigger too and it worked! And now we here back cool again.
Complex: You guys were interconnected and came from the same camps, so now have those fences been mended, too?
Cham: It's different because you start to, over the years, grow apart and you got people that take sides but for the most part, honestly, there always comes a point of closure where you almost begin to forget everything. I mean, you still remember, but you almost start to think that it ain't even really that bad. I remember after Katrina happened and all this stuff was happening and I was just looking at the TV feelin' bad. I said I need to start changing my life and stop having all this negative energy towards them and start putting positive energy into the world. And then I would see them and the energy would just come back. I was like, No, I'm finna ride on them son! So when I got a little older, you feel like this is just worthless. Why spent so much time doing that? It's like that saying: To make a mad face, it takes a lot more muscles than to smile. But once you stop being mad, it's like a big weight being lifted off your shoulder. Let's just get this money, man. I know I make a lot of jokes about Mike Jones, but I don't even have no hatred for him. Like I got into beef with him but I could see him right now and chop it up with him, straight up.
Complex: But you made three mixtapes dissin' Mike Jones
Cham: I was that mad, but the real reason I was mad at Mike Jones was because I know he said stuff. But the fact is, I was more mad at the fact that he was speaking like he never did it and was talking like he believed it. I was so mad that he actually looked like he believed it. So that's what made me even madder. Because it's one thing to say "I ain't do this, I ain't do this," and know you really did. But he was saying it and I was looking at him and saying, "I think he really believe he didn't do it," like he made himself believe that. So I was going at him super hard and after a period of time, I was like "Why am I even doing that?"
Paul: You know that so funny 'cause he really believes in his heart that he ain't do no wrong. Just all the little stuff behind the scenes he really believes that. I mean, even now he'll call T Farris and act like he ain't do nothing and put the blame on everybody else. He really feels like he didn't do anything.
Cham: That was the thing that made me be like F'it. Even if he really did feel that, why am I even mad about it? Why am I spending this much energy on it? It's just better to let it go. I mean honestly, anybody can diss me. I remember 50 Cent said something and everybody was like you need to get at 50 and I was like, "Whatever, I'm in a whole different place in my life." It's gon' have to take something really, really serious for me to start putting that much negative energy into the world again.
Complex: What was it like to be in the studio together again?
Paul: When we did the Pepsi Mic Smash, we were physically in the studio together and collabing with each other and vibing with each other.
Cham: And it actually came out pretty cool 'cause I a lot of times I would always tell Paul, "I think you should do this" and Paul would say, "I think I should do this" and I would be like, "That's kinda dope." So I was it was easier than I thought it was gonna be and it came out pretty good. And we really worked well together on "Main Event," the single from my new album, Venom, dropping on June. 22.
Complex: Have you guys changed as far as how you work in the studio since the last time you worked together?
Paul: I've changed how I work a lot. I've been learning from other artists. I found things that work better for me, where back in the days, it used to take forever for me to write a song. And I used to be focused on the wrong things when it comes to my delivery. I always been a know-it-all and I think I've learned to have more of an open mind. And I've gotten better with time. I hope I got better.
Cham: Before, I used to just make songs all day and now, with so much business and other things that I have in my personal life, I don't have time to sit around and make songs like I used to. I wish I did. I wish I could practice on my craft all day and just be in the studio like I feel Lil Wayne does. He just sits in the studio all day, just making music. But I don't have that kinda time. The best thing about it now is you can go through so much and that gives you the ammunition to actually have something to come back and talk about. That's the good part. The fact that I go through so much, when I come back, I'm gonna have a lot to say.
Complex: You both have a lot going on outside of music. What are some of the things you have on your plate?
Cham: I'm just doing a lot of stuff digitally. It's actually some companies that I have stake in that people don't know about, but I'd rather just not say because it's more of a service that a lot of people would use. I make money off that 'cause, if you look at hip-hop now, a lot of sales are decreasing, a lot of stuff going on with the economy and everything seems to be going digital. So I've been going to tech conferences, to places like Stanford and everywhere meeting all kinds of interesting people. Like, I've met 18-year old kids that have iPhone applications. There's so much digitally that they're teaching me and I'm actually learning a lot. It's not the normal rapper stuff, but there's a difference between rich and wealthy. Wealthy people, they do stuff like I'm doing now. I had a conversation with Master P. I know in the hip-hop world people feel like if you're not on TV and you're not jumping around with a chain on, that you're not doing it big like that, but he had some interesting things to say that opens your mind to the way people think about success. Some people don't have to be on the screen all day and they could be making interest on so many different things and making money. I look at people like that. Those are the kind of entrepreneurs I look at. That's what I'm doing now and following a lot of people's blueprints. I mean, you gotta understand that every time somebody slides you a contract, the contract is in their favor. 99% of the time, it's in their favor and your job is to try to get more in your favor. I understand that. I use quality people. I have the dopest lawyer. I study it. I know a deal. You gotta learn the game, live the game, love the game.
Paul: Yeah, I got a XXX video store [laughs]. No, I'm just playing. We got the grills, the jewelry collection, black diamond collection, full jewelry for rappers and NBA ballers. I have my own clothing line, Expensive Taste, for three or four years. Skinhead Rob came up with the name. It was actually the name of our group with me, him and Travis Barker. We were all on Atlantic, but they didn't want no parts of it. They didn't want them doing it; they didn't want me doing it, so our group is on hold til I'm out of my contract.
Cham: Damn labels!
Paul: So it started off with us. Mr. Cartoon came up with our logo and it was just a merch shirt and people starting supporting it. We saw people loving it, so we said we need to make a clothing line out of it. My boy Travis Barker got his own line, Famous Stars and Straps, actually he got 30 clothing lines. So we had an easy in on it and it was very easy to make that transition.
Complex: Houston blew up after "Still Tippin'" and you guys capitalized on that movement, but things have died down. How do you plan to change that?
Paul: Every region has their time. Florida had their time and the same with Louisiana Then West Coast, the Mid West, St. Louis with Nelly. We really got out chance to get our shine, too. It took years of preparations underground, independent CDs, building up our reputation, so when we came, we already had fan bases that supported us with pride. We had the kind of fans that if you said you don't like us, they gon' fight you because they love us. They passionately love our music. Everybody saw how we did it, but it seems like nobody followed in our footsteps after that. It seems like everybody just come up with a radio hit, signed a deal and that was it. They didn't put in the groundwork. That's how the movement just died 'cause there was nobody to pass the torch to. Everybody was telling us to put them on, and we wanted to get put on too, but nobody put us on, we put ourselves on. Seems like people don't wanna do that now. They make a song and get a deal so they can get their ring tone money and that be it. You gotta build your fan base, build up your resume. Ain't nothing wrong with putting out an independent album. You make so much more money independent. But people want the fame and no matter how much people say they don't want the fame and they want the money, they lying. Man everybody wanna be famous. So for the Texas movement like Dorrough and Charlie Boy? To see all the Dallas artists make it. Man, Dallas supported all of Houston music before Houston supported it. So to see artists from Dallas get their shine on, for me, I'm just so happy that there are finally some artists on TV nationally from Dallas. They deserve it because they put us on. It's not just Houston, its all the best of Texas.
Complex: Paul, you were just elected President of the Texas Grammy board. Tell us about what that entails.
Paul: In the Grammys there are 13 chapters setup by region and for the Texas region, I've been on the board for a couple years now. I ran for president for this new term 'cause I really wanted to show the diversity of Texas music. I really wanted to get our membership up. I really feel like Texas is so big musically. Some of the biggest names in music come from Texas, in every form and genre of music. I feel like if that's the case, then we should be leading in memberships, especially since Texas has so many musicians here. But we're not. And there are a lot of people that don't know that with the recording academy and the Grammys, if you wanna win a Grammy, it's different than a lot of award shows. If you wanna win a Grammy, you gotta get nominated. If you wanna get nominated you have to submit music. If you wanna submit music, you have to be a member. And half the people at the show tonight could have been members, but they don't even know that they qualify. When you win an award from the Grammys, it means a lot 'cause it's voted on by 100% by the people. It's not like some old guy sitting at a desk picking. It's doesn't work like that. It's voted on by your peers in the music industry.
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