Paul Wall Talks "No Sleep Till Houston," & How T.I. & DJ Drama's Mixtape Helped His Grill Business Blow Up
Exclusive: Paul Wall updates fans on a number of projects in the works. He reveals his work with the troops overseas and thanks T.I.& DJ Drama for helping him and TV Johnny make grills for Olympians.
Texas has been self-sufficient in the Hip Hop industry long before any other region knew what “trill” actually meant. Paul Wall is a part of the generation that put Houston Rap in the national spotlight—with little to no push from anywhere else, Houston emcees have relied on each other to make their everyday experiences rattle trunks from Fort Worth to Harlem. That being said, the concept of independence doesn’t scare Paul Wall—those are his roots. Two years after releasing his fifth studio album, Heart Of A Champion, under Warner Brothers/Asylum, the rapper is back to doing things on his own.
Wall keeps a full schedule: performing around the globe, managing his jewelry business with his partner Johnny Dang, and creating grills for Olympic swimmers – he doesn’t strategize the next move, he just works. Whenever there’s a break in the rapper’s schedule, he’s at home with his wife and their two young children. Seems like Paul Wall has it all mapped out and with the release of his latest project, aptly entitled, No Sleep Till Houston, he’s not slowing down anytime soon. The DJ Drama-hosted tape has had speakers booming since March and the industry wanting to hear more of what the Swishahouse affiliate has in the vault. He doesn’t have a moment to consider his current position as an independent artist—Paul Wall is on his grind.
HipHopDX had a chance to catch up with Paul Wall recently. We talked about his five upcoming projects, Houston’s newest Rap generation and how T.I. catapulted his jewelry business years ago.
HipHopDX: Did you expect No Sleep Till Houston to garner as big of a response as it did?
Paul Wall: Well, you know, it’s been a while since I did a whole mixtape like this, especially one that was 100% original, where everything that we did was just for the mixtape. Usually we just take some stuff that we already did and add freestyles to it and make a mixtape. This was really like an album that I put out and promoted like a mixtape. But really it’s like an album. I didn’t really know, because it’s been a while so I didn’t know what kind of response it was gonna get. I didn’t really promote it that well. We really just kinda put it out. I was a little surprised , but I knew people would feel it, so I wasn’t surprised at that. I was more surprised at the response in how many numbers it got, since it wasn’t really promoted that well.
DX: Going into the making of No Sleep Till Houston, was the plan to do it as an album from the beginning or did it just fall into place?
Paul Wall: A little bit of both. The theme of it was just getting money. That was it. No Sleep Till Houston just means, "I’m grinding. I’m on the road or doing whatever I gotta do around the world." I know it’s something a lot of hustlers can relate to where you just get up and go. You get it. There’s no timed schedule of when you punch in that clock - you punch in that clock whenever there’s money. That means if you gotta travel from one side of the country to the other, or one side of the city to the other, or one side of state to the other, you gon’ do it ‘cause you gotta get that money. That’s what most of the songs were about, just getting money. We went into it with the open mindframe of recording and having fun. I wanted to put new and upcoming as well as established artists.
DX: Kirko Bangz has expressed his annoyance at being linked to the New Houston label saying that it isn’t accurate, since the new kids grew up on Houston Rap. He says it’s just a way to separate the generations. Can you relate to why he’d be irritated by that description?
Paul Wall: Even my generation, which is me, Slim Thug, Chamillionaire, Mike Jones, we were the new generation at one point and there was a generation before us that we looked to that inspired and motivated us to be role models in not only our music but in how we represented for the state of Texas. It’s just the tradition, the legacy that they passed on to us that we try and pass on to whoever comes after us. I agree with [Kirko Bangz] though, it’s not like there’s a separation, it’s just a new generation of artists which is good because you always want to have those doors open for new artists to carry that torch for wherever you’re from and whatever you’re doing. You know? It can’t just be one artist or one set group of artists forever. For your spot to continue being on the map and for the tradition to continue, you’ve got to have those doors open for that legacy to continue, this new artists have to come out and represent and do their thing too.
DX: What’s the best motivator behind being independent? Especially after having had a taste of how the major labels do business…
Paul Wall: There are a few different motivating factors: when you do it yourself, you can make your own decisions, there’s no one telling you what to do. You always want to take in advice from other people especially people who’ve been where you’re trying to go or people who can see from a distance the mistakes you’ve making or how you can improve on what you’re doing. But at the end of the day, if it’s your career, you wanna be able to make the mistakes yourself, that way at least you know you did your best and got the advice from people you looked up to and made these mistakes on your own.
It means something because when you get to another level of the music game, you have people telling you what to do and sometimes they might be right and other times they may not understand why you’re doing what you’re doing in the first place so how can they tell you how to do you. Another motivating factor is that you get a bigger percentage of the money when you do it yourself. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re getting more money. That just means you’re getting a bigger percentage- you own your own music, you own what you do, instead of making it and getting a small portion. You‘re gonna have opportunities sometimes where all you have is work ethic and grind and that can take you a long way. All the way to the top if you outhustle the rest of the competition no matter what you do in life. It’s all about grinding it out, working and creating opportunities and doors to open for not only yourself, but your team, people around you, people you down with, so you know, that’s another big motivating factor.
DX: Can you talk about a few of your upcoming projects?
Paul Wall: I’m actually working on a couple things. A mixtape with DJ Whoo Kid and an album with Baby Bash. Me and Lil Keke are working on a tape. I’m working on a solo album as well. I’m in grind mode, working all over the place and recording with everyone. Different producers bring out a different sound just like different artists bring out a different type of style.
DX: Which producers are you in the studio with for all the projects you have coming?
Paul Wall: I like to try and work with one set main producer or a couple of producers for every project, that way it has its own theme. They all have that Paul Wall touch to it but they have their own theme or style. No Sleep was 100% GL Production- [G Luck and B Don] they did it but this next project is some of that and some with Beanz N Kornbread too. They produced Heart Of the Champion with Travis Barker too. They did one half and Travis did the other half. So, on the next project they’re doing half and GL Productions is doing the other half. Every once in a while, I’ll get a couple beats from one or two other producers too like, we got something from Drumma Boy and a few up and comers, one from Dallas named Curt McGurt. Platinum Hands from Houston… And on top of that me and Happy [Perez] are doing a full project. A full studio album.
DX: All these projects… You have any release dates yet?
Paul Wall: There really aren’t any dates, we’re just recording and we’ll go from there. What I could do is take everything I have and put it out now but if I just put momentum out in different directions and plant seeds… The project with Baby Bash is a seed, the project with Happy Perez is another one, and the project with Whoo Kid is another one. I’m just watering ‘em and letting ‘em grow instead of just planting one seed. Just doing different things.
DX: And you’re doing this all by yourself, correct?
Paul Wall: I’m 100% independent. I don’t even have a name for my record label. I just have my own music that I plan on putting out myself. I just plan on going to the distributors myself, just me and my partners.
DX: In this day and age where new rappers drop projects every hour it seems, do you feel any anxiety diving back into this industry headfirst, with no major label backing?
Paul Wall: There’s definitely some, somewhat, just because you never know what the future holds. But that just goes for anything. Anytime I leave the house, to get on an airplane and go anywhere or do anything… I’m a man of faith so I feel like I have my faith in God and as long as I put my best foot forward and do my best to keep it 100 and be a real type individual, follow the ways I was taught, then I feel like God gon’ make sure that I’m straight and everything that’s supposed to happen, happens. I’m not really concerned too much about it. I think at the end of the day, my grind is gonna outshine any other type of failure or obstacles that may come my way. My main thing is that I have people that support me, I have fans who listen to be and those are the people I’m tryna do this for now. I’m not trying to chase after other fans I don’t have or anything like that. As long as my fans are satisfied with what I’m putting out and continue to support the movement and what I’m trying to do, I’ma keep doing it.
DX: What does Paul Wall do when he isn’t working?
Paul Wall: I think being with my family is the most important thing. You know, part of my childhood wasn’t all that good. So to be with my son and my wife and my daughter, just holding them in my arms, being with them… Helping teach my son right from wrong, what to do and how to be a man, just about life in general, same thing with my daughter, it’s just very important to me.
DX: That’s very sweet. Are you planning on having more kids?
Paul Wall: Umm… I don’t plan on it. [Laughs] I would love to have more but children take so much attention from you, they need so much and I don’t know how we’d divide up with one more child, because our two kids now? They need all your attention.
DX: The main thing people have been saying about No Sleep, is that you’ve proven to be pretty diverse from track to track. Is it easy for you to switch between styles on a whim?
Paul Wall: Sometimes you’re with a producer who just makes beats and you can kinda do your thing to whatever beats they come up with. But sometimes you get with a producer who really produces you and the music together, not just the beat then you can kinda throw in your ideas and vibe off each other. But different producers bring a different sound out of me, but I don’t try to go too far out of my lane. Working with different producers will move me side to side within that lane.
DX: You’ve been a part of Rap for awhile now. Who would you like to work with that you haven’t yet?
Paul Wall: I’ma stay in the underground as I always have been and still am. I’d like to work with [Kansas City’s] Rich the Factor, I like his music. And a lot of the artists in the A like, Alley Boy and Future, I’d like to work with them.
DX: Beyond Hip Hop, you and Johnny Dang are making grills for Olympians and appearing on Anderson Live now? Can you pinpoint exactly when things exploded for you two?
Paul Wall: It all changed for real when T.I. had his mixtape Down With the King with DJ Drama and he gave me a few shoutouts on there. Man, the shout outs that he gave me… Like, he just gave me the biggest grill cosign that he could give me and after that, everybody was coming to me.
DX: What’s been your best career experience over the past year?
Paul Wall: Hmm, there’s a few. I do a lot of stuff with the USO. Earlier in the year I went to the Middle East and Africa- places you’d never expect me to go and perform for the soldiers and heroes- that’s an amazing opportunity. Amazing trip every time we do it. It’s been five or six times now and every time we do it, it’s a memorable experience and the people we perform for? It’s memorable for them as well. When my mom grew up, her father was in the military so she grew up all over the world. She lived in Germany, Jerusalem, Switzerland, all over. She’d tell me about living in places like Jerusalem where it’s not too friendly for Americans to be, for me to get the opportunity to go… I’ve always been adventurous - my wife calls me "the Hip Hop Crocodile Hunter" - if you can survive in the hood, you can survive anywhere.