Right now, it seems like the world is Slim Thug's oyster to shuck. The towering (six foot six) Northside rapper has been one of Texas's and the South's mixtape messiahs for years now, as implied by the title of his brand-new major-label studio debut, Already Platinum.
His cell phone's ringing off the hook. He's got a small but growing real estate company. Later this summer, he's hoping to either get on the Anger Management Tour or to hit the road with Paul Wall and Mike Jones -- Houston's other hot rappers involved in the current major-label feeding frenzy. His grill sports plentiful platinum and what looks like the weekly output of an extremely fertile South African diamond mine. And when he rolls up to our interview -- in the parking lot of the Roxy on a wet and muggy Wednesday afternoon -- it's in a $450,000 deep purple Rolls-Royce Phantom with personalized plates.
There's only one small problem here: Slim's not driving the Phantom. His potna Chuck is. "The cops took my shit indefinitely," Slim says as he exits from the shotgun seat. "I ain't gonna be driving for a while."
His cell phone rings before we can get into the whys and wherefores. (Actually, we never get the chance, but he's been written up for numerous tickets over the past five years.) Slim excuses himself and picks it up as our photographer snaps shots of him lounging around in front of the Rolls. "Hey, foo', is 16 songs gonna be too long to add four more chopped and screwed versions?" he asks of whoever it is on the other end. "Is 16 songs gonna be too many to add four more? I don't know. I'll call you right back. I'm doing a photo shoot."
At first he seems a little tired of all the glitz, and he comes across as shyer than you'd expect. Here, in the shadows of the Galleria and Williams Tower, the 24-year-old rapper (born Stayve Peters) has come a long way from the grimy Northside haunts of his youth. He has described his childhood as a continual series of abrupt moves -- he has six older siblings -- and the criminal activity of his three hustling brothers often got the family evicted from their apartments. When he was 11, one of his brothers bought him a karaoke machine, and Slim told XXL magazine that he immediately freestyled 11 different raps over one OutKast beat. Still, he heeded the call of the streets for a time and dabbled in petty crime, the proceeds of which bought him the first of what would become many rides, a 1972 Cadillac El Dorado that earned him his enduring "Boss Hogg" nickname.
But he kept up the rap end too, and by the time he was 17 he'd captured the ear of Michael "5000" Watts, who was then just firing up what would become the Swisha House empire. At that time, Houston rap was all about DJ Screw and Lil' KeKe's "South Side," but Slim rapped about what was unique about the Northside. Braided hair, for example. That was the favored haircut from the Fifth Ward north -- down south it was all about fades.
After parting with Swisha House around the turn of the millennium, Slim cut a series of mixtapes -- his raps over pre-existing beats. Slim says mixtapes are not just good promotional tools, they're also about as good an education as a rapper can get. "It's great practice, for one. And second, they put your name in the streets. Mixtapes is so easy -- you can do that shit real quick and put it out the same week. But as far as, you know, a rap album, you gotta get it mixed and mastered and it's a lotta time gotta go into it. But a mixtape is so easy to do. It's the quickest way to put your name out there -- you steady drop mixtapes in the street and get that look around the city or however far the mixtape travels. It seems like it's the thing to do, instead of somebody seeing your poster and spending their hard-earned money and takin' a chance based on how a dude look, the mixtape is a sample of your voice and your music and what you can do."
Though proud of being from the Northside, Slim's always been about ending the strife that once threatened to tear black Houston into warring geographical factions. "That shit was crazy back in the day," he says. "Then me and ESG got together and made a record [2002's Boss Hogg Outlaws] talking about that stuff, and it seemed like after that it started calming down. They seen we weren't really on that trip so it got better."
How, I ask him, did all that 'plex get started, anyway? "What I really know about it is this: Back in about '95, '96, it was a group of dudes from Homestead, the area I'm from, who was stealin' cars, and they would come to the Southside and they would steal a lot of the Southside dudes' cars," he says. "And so the Southside dudes kinda put it all on the whole Northside, and it was really just one neighborhood. After that shit, Southside dudes started to rap on CDs, sayin' Northside dudes steal and rob. That made it bigger. And then Northside dudes started rollin' in blue cars, Southside ride red. That's what it was back then."
But as more and more local rappers have realized, Slim definitely not least among them, green trumps both red and blue. He's talking about taking his fledgling real estate concern to a "whole 'nother level, like millions at a time" by moving into commercial properties. The car lot is still in the planning stages -- "I've been on the road so much tryin' to promote this rap album I haven't really had a chance to sit down and plan that." As is the strip club. "I don't have time to focus on those things right now. I'm just tryin' to focus on the real estate thing and the rap thing right now."
Now, about that "rap thing" Already Platinum was supposed to have been the first of the major-label releases from Houston in this, the year in which we finally seized the reins as the Dirty South's hottest rap city. Much of the same type of hype that landed on Mike Jones's shoulders seemed to be looming over Slim Thug. Slim lined up the Neptunes, commercial rap's cleverest and most successful producers (not to mention Jazze Pha and Dre), and an all-star lineup of guest MCs, including Bun B, T.I., Ludacris and Killa Kyleon. He was signed to Jimmy Iovine's Interscope label, and the album was slated to come out on the Neptunes' Star Trak imprint. Lead singles "Like a Boss" and "I Ain't Heard of That" started getting spins on the Box at the end of last December. Vibe ran a favorable review of the record back in April.
But it didn't come out then. Or on a few other dates. The trouble was that a bunch of the tracks had leaked. Thousands of Slim's fans ripped and burned the album before it ever came out. So it was back to the woodshed for Slim and the Neptunes and a bunch of the others involved, for a bout of remixing and even replacing tracks. The new edition of Already Platinum contains only a handful of the original tunes and even features new cover art.
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Good thing it was worth the wait. The tuba-thumping single "Like a Boss" is slamming and now features a hilarious female voice cheerleading Slim on over the hook. Well, it could be a female or it could be Mike Tyson -- it's hard to tell. At any rate, everybody I've played it for, kids and adults alike, loves it. (Be warned before you break it out for the tykes -- the language is raw.) The remix of "I Ain't Heard of That" has a lot of the same spare and spindly charm that the Neptunes brought to Snoop Dogg's smash "Drop It Like It's Hot." Jazze Pha's wa-wa guitar production on "Incredible Feelin'" recalls OutKast at their funkiest, and throughout the album Slim delivers his lines -- most of which are traditional Dirty South playa fare -- with gruff-voiced authority. (Sample lyrics from "Like a Boss": "You fools just went to school and learned to use ProTools / and copy your G-moves off the ten o'clock news / you can't survive in my shoes or afford to pay my dues / with your cartoon crews y'all niggas destined to lose.")
Slim smiles remembering the virtuosity of the Neptunes, especially Pharrell. "It's just simple things, like me and Pharrell will be ridin' in the car or whatever and I'll be tellin' him a story about somebody, and he'll just pick somethin' up. He's not from Houston, so when I talk at him he can pick up what we say down here that everybody else don't say. The slang or whatever. Like I'll say, 'Put ya up,' and that's slang out here for takin' care of a woman or whatever It was that easy. He just went in the studio with the words 'Put ya up' and came up with a beat. It was that simple, with them bein' geniuses, to show their character."
It also used to be that easy for Slim to release his mixtapes. As he's midway through what has been the agonizing process of getting his album out, one wonders if he misses the days when he had more control over his music. If, figuratively speaking, he still wishes he was behind the wheel of the Rolls-Royce Phantom that is his new record deal, if he didn't have to deal with the traffic cops that are label bosses.
He laughs, a little ruefully, and there's a long pause. "The major label definitely have a better way of pushin' you," he says, finally. "The majors don't actually reach the bottom of the streets -- which the mixtapes do. The mixtapes is more about promotin' yourself in the local 'hoods, and the majors is more about the on-top, worldwide audience. It's good to work on both."