Keeping it real: How rapper Paul Wall stays true to himself
© Red Bull Content Pool
Paul Wall explores authenticity and his Houston roots in new Red Bull Studio Sessions episode.
When it comes to authenticity, Paul Wall is all about keeping it real. “Being real in Houston is something that is instilled upon you,” the 39-year-old rapper, DJ and artist explains. “I always try to do right by people.”
Born Paul Michael Slayton, Wall grew up immersed in Houston’s music culture alongside the independent southern rap label Swishahouse and an underground mixtape circuit. He was taught to work hard, keep his head down and stay true to his sound, even through mainstream success. It’s something the Grammy-nominated artist holds onto in his personal and professional life, a driving force he lets take center stage in his recent Red Bull Studios Sessions, filmed earlier this year in Santa Monica, CA.
First and foremost, “I wanted to make a song for cars,” Wall says of the session, in honor of a culture that’s always been close to him. He’s been an avid supporter and staple of Houston’s slab scene for years. “Not necessarily where the car is the subject matter, but just in the back of your mind that this song is to be played in the car.”
The Paul Wall Edition
Forever passionate about the slab car lifestyle, “Real One,” recorded at Red Bull Music Studios in Los Angeles, pays homage to Wall’s love for the car community. “When we’re in cars, we’re listening to songs that make a statement,” he explains. One of his earliest memories shaped by music and cars is when he got his first Mercedes: “I remember Pastor Troy had a song called ‘Benz,’ it was a remake of Whodini’s ‘Friends.’ This song was meant to be for people jamming it. I was playing that song in my Benz.”
Wall wants people to take away that same connection from his music, whether it’s to cars or anything else that resonates meaning in their lives. When he gets ready to record, he makes it a mission to get in the right mindset to create music that’s straight from the heart. Wall gets up early, sometimes as early as 6 a.m., even if he was up late the night before recording in the studio, not leaving until 3 or 4 in the morning. He starts every day with a prayer, thanking god for his blessings or putting intentions into the universe. It was a habit he learned from Lil Wayne, who spoke about praying every day in an interview. “From that day forward, that’s what I do,” Wall says. “Everyday.”
He doesn’t know if there’s a scientific explanation but setting aside those few minutes each morning creates purpose and drive for the rapper. “It definitely helps me, even if it’s just a meditation of the prayer,” Wall continues. Then, he grabs some caffeine for energy, usually a Tangerine Red Bull. Before filming his episode of Red Bull Studio Sessions, he stopped at a nearby Starbucks every morning for a croissant, and by the time he got into the studio to record, Wall would be ready to dive right in.
In and outside of the studio, Wall relies heavily on his iPhone, as seen in the episode, which he breaks out regularly throughout the day to write down lyrics and ideas for his music. Every note is meticulously organized, with special spaces and punctuations that designate pauses or breaks in words, a language unique to Wall and his creativity. “I got a real active mind,” he explains. “It’ll remind me how I said [the lyrics] in my mind when I thought of it.”
He admits he gets distracted easily, and often needs to go to a quiet place to think without any noise. “When I’m in a studio, I’ve got to focus,” he says. “I might sit down, sometimes I like to walk around; I like to pace back and forth.” Anything to reel his mind back in to where it needs to be - focusing on the art of the music and the style of the sound, which he believes has never stayed exactly the same for him throughout the many chapters of his career.
Wall got his start in the late ‘90s working alongside rapper Chamillionare. It was appearing on Mike Jones’ first commercially distributed single “Still Tippin’” that helped Wall reach mainstream popularity. Best known for his hits “Sittin’ Sidewayz,” “Girl” and “I’m Throwed,” Wall has also released hundreds of mixtapes and collaborated with the biggest names in the business including Kanye West and Nelly, among others.
He also has a wildly successful custom grillz business that caters to celebrities and Olympic athletes alike. Like his hairstyles, Wall says with a laugh, his sound and ambitions have evolved over time, little hints of which can be heard surfacing throughout the various songs he recorded for Red Bull Studio Sessions.
“I have eras of sound,” Wall explains, “and it’s funny because I’ve got a hairstyle to match each sound. When I first came into the Swishahouse, I had cornrows and braids, and I had a very different sound than I have now.” Then, he says, when he cut his braids off, his style started shifting. “When I moved to the southside [from the northside], I got a southside kind of swag to me. It was very influential on me.”
His music started to get a little more real, Wall explains, and included clever, catchy lines. Then he got older, he continues, and his music started to shift some more. He became conscious about his health and made it a mission to lead a healthy lifestyle, making many changes along the way. His two children Will, 14, and Noelle, 12, began to grow up, and Wall worked hard to be a good role model for them. No matter how late he worked, he always made sure to be up in the morning to see them off to school.
All of these personal changes have shaped Wall’s music, a style that continues to develop with time and can be picked up on “Comeback” and other songs created in his Studio Session. Now working as an independent artist, Wall isn’t tied to a major label and has the freedom to continue exploring his sound on his own terms. “I’m really interested in going down avenues I don’t normally go down,” he says while recording with Red Bull. “Not song topics or song styles, but the creative process of us blending everything together.”
The team combined their minds to create fresh material that pulled the best from each artist contributing to the music. Splitting into smaller groups, the work included creating melodic and anthemic sounds, R&B melodies and beat development. “It’s always been about beats and bars,” Wall says of the sound he gravitates towards. “That’s what dope hip hop has always been to me - a dope beat, and somebody saying something.”
Keeping that sound alive is part of the way he stays true to himself and what he stands for as an artist. He doesn’t follow cliches or trends, he says, but sticks to what he believes is authentic to his craft, the city he came from, his family and his future. “It’s constant work,” he says. “It’s constantly wanting to be better, do better, sound better. How I can improve, and not just give more of the same.”