Paul Wall has a new gig. Houston's undisputed king of the parking lot takes his new role as seriously as those icy grills he touts. In addition to rapper, producer and premier grillmaker, he can now add "mentor" to his ridiculous résumé.
Don't get it twisted, though. Wall is still making his old-school music, rapping about his love of blowing trees and sittin' sideways. And he still wants to make your grill (yes, your, your, your grill), although it better be sans blood diamonds.
That's kind of how Paul Wall is. The same guy who raps about hos in the parking lot boppin' is also a proud husband and dad. He's determined to remain true to his Swishahouse roots and be a role model who takes care that his actions speak louder than his words.
"Music is just entertainment," Wall says. "Music shouldn't teach you how to be a man or a good father, and if you're trying to figure out how to be a dad, you don't Google some songs that'll teach you how to do that."
Wall straddles the line between the purple-drank-touting rapper and the family man, but his musical style hasn't changed much since he became a father. Nor does he feel it should; his subject matter today is much the same as it was when he was on the mike with Mike Jones back in the day, and he still has love for Houston's underground rap scene. His mixtape No Sleep Til Houston, billed as "an official Paul Wall release," drew widespread praise when it dropped this past March.
It's Wall's life choices that differ now. He's still tippin', but it just so happens he's tippin' a bit more responsibly these days. After all, he's got good reason for those drank-slangin' changes; two children and a wife will do that to a guy.
In recent years, Wall has been vocal about his efforts to promote a healthier lifestyle. He'd like to be around for those kids and his music and has copped not only to lifesaving gastric bypass surgery but also to a newfound affinity for Zumba, of all things. His wife, Crystal, is even a Zumba instructor.
"We promote an unhealthy lifestyle so much, that becomes the expected and normal way to live," Wall says. "We wanted to be healthy and didn't have a lot of places to look. We didn't have a lot of role models, and you're putting all these poisons into your body, all the processed foods and all that.
"It makes you want to get it together and take off the blindfold," he adds.
He's not all Zumba and wheatgrass, though. He's still that old-school Dirty South Paul Wall who has been recognizable by his badass grill ever since he emerged onto the Houston rap scene more than a decade ago. He has also used his renown to become one of the jewelry industry's premier grill suppliers.
Today Wall has created the custom jewel-encrusted mouthpieces he calls "grillz" for a crazy mix of celebrities. From Ryan Lochte to Waka Flocka Flame, Wall is the go-to grill guy for rappers and athletes alike.
"I was actually working on a grill when you called me," he laughs.
"It's been great — we see celebrities every time they come in town," Wall continues. "Rappers and athletes, making me lots of money. We saw a lot of people for the [NBA] All-Star Game; I just made a grill for Waka Flocka. It's been dope."
Now Wall is part of that elite rapper-and-athlete crowd he makes his grillz for, but he has a genuine quality that makes it clear he doesn't let his elite status dominate who he is. He knows he'll be influential for future generations of rappers, and seems pretty humbled by the idea.
"It's definitely something you don't expect," he says.
"When you're pursuing your dream, you're pursuing this dream and you don't expect to be influencing others," Wall continues. "But high-school kids are gon' turn into college kids, and the younger ones start looking up to them, and that's the progression with music, too. Older artists get looked up to."
He remembers all too well those days of coming up on the Houston rap scene, where he admired local heavyweights like Lil Keke.
"Lil Keke, he was my favorite — I'll still listen to him today and find inspiration from it. Even his new stuff," laughs Wall.
"When I was in high school, fallin' in love with hip-hop, that's who was important to me: Screwed Up Click," he recalls.
That inspiration has influenced Wall's decision to help out Springboard South this year. Now in its second year, the fledgling music festival is meant to showcase and mentor emerging artists of all genres.
Wall doesn't see this festival — a three-day event that offers participants the opportunity to work with industry insiders — as an easy way out.
There's real work involved in being an artist, which Wall knows well. As much as he's willing to help others, Wall believes that being an artist, especially a rapper, is really what you make of it.
"People want help a lot of times, and that means in their mind you should do it for 'em," he says. "It's hard to explain, but it don't work like that.
"Especially in rap, it's what you make it," he adds. "It's all how you grow, the relationships and networking you build."
Recently he's been working with June James, a twentysomething Houston producer whom he calls "real dope." Of course, Wall has some advice for such up-and-comers, artists set to fill those shoes he's left behind for the next generation.
"Don't walk around acting like a rock star," says Wall. "It's cliché to say you're a businessman, a hustler, and then show up late. Take it seriously. Hip-hop is an art form, and it needs to be taken seriously.
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"Some of these artists, they take it for granted, and it's crazy," he surmises. "You gotta be grateful for the respect and the support, and you can't do that stuff."
And grateful Mr. Paul Wall is. With a new album, Check Season, coming up at the end of the summer — along with those grillz — he knows he's got a good thing going on.
"I'm real grateful," Wall says. "I'm blessed. It's what you make it."
Paul Wall and Slim Thug headline the second Springboard South music festival this weekend at Warehouse Live, 813 St. Emanuel. The duo performs Friday night, and Springboard stretches through Sunday with more than 50 artists across a host of genres. See springboardsouth.com for more details.