They say that everything is bigger in Texas—and when it comes to hip-hopper and entrepreneur Paul Wall, the tried-and-true adage shines brightly like the bling glistening off the Houston native’s grill. Most everything this player’s touched has turned to gold—or something even more precious. He sports two No. 1 album debuts (You remember the hit song “Sittin’ Sidewayz,” right?), a Platinum record for 2005’s The Peoples Champ and a Grammy nomination for “Grillz”—a track he did with Nelly. He also founded a successful grills and jewelry business and recently became a major player in the Texas music industry. Paul Wall recently took time to chat with CULTURE about his new album (Heart of a Champion), how Travis Barker and Soulja Boy have taught him a thing or two and the not-so-subtle meaning behind a song called “Smoke Weed Everyday.”
So, I heard you moved to L.A. for the recording of your new album, Heart of a Champion.
Yeah, we go back and forth. We kind of like it in L.A. It’s a good atmosphere, a good vibe. We’ve been liking it. I think we’re going to stay here for a while. At least until the lease is up at the house we’re renting.
So, tell me a bit about the new album.
It’s produced by [Blink-182 drummer, The Transplants] Travis Barker. He produced the majority of it. Other than him, it was Beanz N Kornbread that produced the second half of the album. Beanz N Kornbread is a production crew out of Houston. They did a lot of my stuff for my last album, [2009’s] The Fast Life. And, you know, it’s some good music, good motivation music.
What’s the meaning behind the new record’s title?
I decided on the title because people are giving up too easy. Like, with the recession and with hard times, people are just giving up too easy. If you want to be successful, if you want to make it, you’ve gotta have the heart of a champion. You can’t give up. You’ve gotta keep fighting.
Had you worked with Travis before?
I met him and Skinhead Rob when they were with the Transplants. They were signed to Atlantic Records and I was too at that time and we met at the offices of Atlantic in New York. We just got to be pretty good friends—that was five years back.
When The Transplants broke up, we had just been kicking around the idea of doing some music together. We ended up forming a group called Expensive Taste and we ended up making a clothing line to go along with it as well—and it’s been doing well for us. But being around Travis every day in the studio, you get to hear his production—and not only the stuff he’s remixed for other people, his general production style, man. His style is so ill. His skills—he’s the real deal when it comes to production. Maybe he has such a different mind frame because he comes from another genre of music.
Did people trip when you told them Travis was producing part of your album?
So many people thought I was doing a rock album. But, man, it ain’t what it is at all. It’s straight hip-hop. When I let people at the record label hear the music, they were, like, ‘OK, which ones did Travis produce?” They couldn’t tell, you know? And that’s how it is if I say Travis is producing some of my tracks. If I said “Travis Barker,” people automatically think this is gonna be some punk rock album or something like that, but that’s not what it is, not at all. Travis, man, his production is so dope. He’s one of my favorite producers to work with. His work ethic is incredible.
Did you learn anything from working with him?
We got this deep friendship—other than just music. His production is so crazy. When you hear it, you wouldn’t even know it was Travis Barker. You’d think it was one of the top producers in hip-hop, you know?
Speaking of Expensive Taste, do you think you’ll ever drop an album?
I would hope. At the time we were with Atlantic Records, The Transplants had broken up and I think the label was kind of burnt out on messing with Travis and Rob. I was toward the end of my deal with Atlantic, so they didn’t really want to do the [Expensive Taste] music for whatever reason. They decided they didn’t want to do it. So, that kind of put us in a position where we were both stuck and we really couldn’t do anything at the time. I don’t know, maybe some time down the line we’ll end up doing something. I would hope, because the Expensive Taste music we’ve got is so crazy.
There’s also an Expensive Taste clothing line, right?
Yeah. Travis also does his clothing line, Famous Stars and Straps, which is hugely successful. So, he already had the blueprint for a clothing line . . . We’re just trying to do something against the grain. Most of our T-shirts are not something you’re going to see at Walmart. It’s something that’s gonna get kids banned from school for wearing them. They’re definitely not PG-rated shirts.
I read that you are now the president of the Texas chapter for the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences—which is the outfit that does the Grammy awards. What are your plans?
I feel like, especially in hip-hop, most of the people in the music scene don’t hear our voice. It isn’t heard on a national level. What you don’t see is a lot of Texas artists getting nominated, much less win. And the only way to change that is to vote for who gets nominated and vote for who wins. And the only way to vote is to be a member [of the Academy], and the requirements aren’t like crazy requirements. You have to be in the music industry, you have to put out an album or work on an album—it’s something that anyone in the music industry can qualify for. So, for me, to get to be president is quite a milestone for me. I think our goal is to try and encourage people to join
It’s all about social media nowadays. Where are you with this?
Of course, social media is the wave of the future, but it seems like every couple of years there’s something new. Back in the day it was Facebook, then it was BlackPlanet, then MySpace, then back to Facebook—they had a nice comeback—and Facebook’s where things are at today. That and Twitter, of course. But, like I said, every couple of years there’s something new. Maybe in a couple of years, there’ll be a new Twitter out there or Facebook out there. I like to Twitter. I’ll be on Twitter all the time, all day. It’s a great way to interact with your fans, it’s a great way to promote what you’ve got going on. It’s fun for me and my friends and we have fun with it on tour.
How big of a deal is Facebook and Twitter for the music biz?
You can be a star overnight. Just look at Soulja Boy. He blew up off of YouTube—that was incredible. It shows you how much music has changed. When I was coming up, there was no YouTube. Believe me, if I was coming up with my first album, I’d be on YouTube. Now I’m on YouTube, even though I came around before people like Soulja Boy. I’m taking notes from him. I saw how he did it and how other people are doing it with Twitter and social networking. You’ve got to stay relevant and keep learning the game.
You and Devin the Dude did a song called “Smoke Weed Everyday.” Tell me about that.
It was another Beanz N Kornbread production. They had the concept. When I heard that, I was like, you know, who else can I put on here who’s an avid smoker? And, of course, Devin came to mind. He’s one of my favorite artists. He’s so creative and so different. I had never worked with him before, so he blessed me.
So, is the song kind of a weed anthem?
Oh yeah. Especially since 4/20 recently passed a couple of months ago. That was like the theme music for the whole day.
Speaking of 4/20, did you do anything special to celebrate?
Of course. I smoked weed all day.
Speaking of cannabis, Texas is way different than California when it comes to marijuana laws, correct?
[Laughing] Texas is a little behind when it comes to legalizing.
Do you think your home state needs to loosen up?
Yeah, of course. I’m a big promoter for legalizing it in Texas, but I think it’s gonna be a long time before that happens—maybe when one of my kids has kids. It’s a little more conservative here when it comes to legalization.
Does the fact that marijuana laws are different in California make it cool to visit?
It definitely feels like a different environment. That’s part of the reason why I moved to California to record my album.
You’ll be doing a lot of touring to support Heart of a Champion. What would be your dream tour?
It would be me, [San Francisco rapper] Andre Nickatina and maybe Snoop. You got Andre Nickatina, who you know is sick with it. And, of course, you go on tour with Snoop and you’re gonna be smoking weed every day.