Million Dollar Smile

Paul Wall joins George Foreman in the famous Houston grill club

Wall has also found a few hip-hop surrogate fathers along the way, Swishahouse's Watts not least among them. Wall says Watts gave him the best advice he ever got in the rap game. "He told me that if you always show love, you gonna get it in return, but if you stop showin' love, then people gonna stop showin' you love."

Swishahouse A&R man T. Farris -- who Wall says in the liner notes to The People's Champ "threw me a rope when I was sinking in quicksand" -- is another member of Wall's rap family, albeit more as a brother than a dad. "He always stood by my side. Me and him was always friends above all else, and as I climbed the ranks as a rapper, he did the same as an executive at Swishahouse. G. Dash and Michael Watts always showed me love regardless of any situation, but T. Farris reached out and really made it happen where I could come back to Swishahouse. He believed in me when a lot of other people didn't really believe in me."

Wall and Farris once worked side-by-side as street teamers for Swishahouse, but as Wall's rap career took off, he and Color Changin' Click partner/Jersey Village buddy Chamillionaire left Swishahouse to release mixtapes like 2002's Get Ya Mind Correct under their own Paid in Full imprint. After the bitter split between Wall and Cham in 2003, Farris, by this time the president of A&R at Swishahouse, helped Wall rejoin the fold in time to land him a memorable guest verse ("I got the In-ter-net goin' nuts…") with Mike Jones and Slim Thug on "Still Tippin'," the kick-the-door-down breakthrough hit this city's rap scene hasn't had since the Geto Boys' "Mind Playin' Tricks on Me."

Champing the people is a full-time job: Wall greets his 
peeps at the "They Don't Know" video shoot.
Daniel Kramer
Champing the people is a full-time job: Wall greets his peeps at the "They Don't Know" video shoot.

"I love him to death, man," Farris says. "I love him like a brother."

No doubt, this was a great day for Houston, and we won't be surprised if Wall -- unlike Lil' Flip and Slim Thug -- cracks platinum status with this record. But looking ahead, Houston rappers need to keep on developing. It's only a matter of time before the novelty of Houston slang wears off, so we've got to keep the beats fresh and start developing distinct personalities and exploring new subject matter. Rap-A-Lot always has -- guys like Devin, Bun B and Z-Ro are true poets -- but all the huge Houston hits lately have been party tunes about cars and syrup and/or simple old-fashioned brags. To reach that next level, someone in this batch -- it could be Paul Wall, or it could be his estranged buddy Chamillionaire, whose debut is coming soon -- has to develop a rounded, quirky personality like Eminem, Big Boi or Jay-Z, and we've got to keep coming up with tracks as dope as those of Salih Williams, who is fast becoming (to my mind, anyway) the Kanye West of Texas.

But this day was about celebration, so I kept my doubts to myself. It would have been churlish not to. As for Wall, what does he see for Houston in his crystal ball? "We've been doin' our thang for a while, but just think of all the people that's still unheard of," he says. "We're the No. 4 city in the country and, like, No. 7 in the world" -- actually we're not seventh in the world, but Wall majored in mass communications at UH, not geography -- "so statistically the odds are there's gonna be a lotta talent coming from Houston. So now that we got everybody's attention, I think definitely there's gonna be a lot of stars coming out of Texas and specifically Houston, not just in hip-hop but in all brands of music."

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