If there is a moment in time that could crystalize when the world was free and no one could predict the future, it’s the “Still Tippin” video shoot. There, rapper Paul Wall stood out mightily next to the lanky and lean Slim Thug and du-ragged Mike Jones. He wore a Rockets jersey, held up a replica of the WWE Intercontinental title belt and his first lines to America were as Southern and comfortable as can be: “What it do, it’s Paul Wall—I’m the people’s champ.”

That look, that belt, and that song helped establish Paul Wall to a national audience. In fact, 2005 could be summed up as the year of the People’s Champ. With one flash of his platinum grill, he created a generation who specifically wanted jewelry from him. He stole the show on Kanye West’s Late Registration with “Drive Slow” and by the September release of his debut album The People’s Champ, Paul had done something no other Houston rapper except Scarface had done—he achieved a No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 chart.

Paul’s initial turn at stardom had not come without its rocky moments. He started in the late ‘90s as part of the Swishahouse, a rag-tag collective of Northside Houston rappers initially believed to be the antithesis to the Screwed Up Click. Both units dabbled in chopped and screwed music, with Swishahouse co-founders Michael “5000” Watts and OG Ron C morphing into the next logical point of the sound after DJ Screw passed in November 2000. Watts and Ron C would later split, with the former becoming one of the South’s premiere DJs and the latter starting The Chopstars. 

Paul Wall found fame with his rhyming partner, Chamillionaire. The two eventually signed a local label deal with Paid In Full Entertainment, releasing one official album in 2003: Get Ya Mind Correct. Then Cham and Paul split, eventually leading Paul to a resurrection in 2005—and cementing his place as one of hip-hop’s most beloved characters.

But unlike others whose stars waned after a moment of perceived glory, Paul continued on. He released more albums and witty one-liners about Houston car culture and lifestyle, worked with many and befriended even more. He gained ink, gained and lost a considerable amount of weight, and reclaimed his life. When he worked on his new album Subculture (listen here), a project pieced together through various studio sessions before and after a global shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he tied himself to the process of collaboration even further. 

We spoke for nearly two hours last month, covering major labels versus independence, faith, his old friend Kanye, and his status as an OG in Houston hip-hop. Paul Wall still has lessons to share.

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