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“What it do baby, it’s the Ice Man, Paul Wall!”
Paul Wall will forever go down in history as a legend in the rap game. On top of his viral success collaborating with Nelly on their 2009 single “Grillz,” real name Paul Slayton stays reppin’ his hometown of Houston through and through. When it comes to H-Town culture, Paul knows best — describing himself as the “unofficial president of the Houston fanclub.”
Jumpstarting his career alongside Chamillionaire, the rapper and entrepreneur would go on to create hits of his own like “Sittin’ Sidewayz” to “I’m Throwed” to “Swangin In The Rain.” And let’s not forget his all-star features with Mike Jones on “Still Tippin’,” Brooke Hogan on “About Us,” and Kanye West’s “Drive Slow.”
Most recently, Paul released his 12th studio album, Subculture, in partnership with Red Bull to coincide with the 15-year anniversary of his iconic debut album, The People’s Champ, which peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
REVOLT caught up with Paul to discuss his music, Houston, his perspective on the Black Lives Matter movement as a white man, and the new album. Peep the conversation below.
How have you been holding up during quarantine?
I’m definitely appreciative for all my blessings, the opportunity to spend time with my family. Of course I took a hit like everybody else, but I’m able to maintain and provide financially for my family. I’m very grateful to help others too. It’s a tale of multiple worlds when you see what you got going and how other people might have it. I see some places where there’s no COVID, everything’s normal. You go places, everybody’s on lockdown. Everybody got masks on, protective gear, everything. You go other places where it’s a combination. My son has asthma, so that’s my main focus. My mom being old, she’s in Colorado. That’s been the toughest — not seeing my mom. Everybody in the world’s going through this, it is what it is.
What are your favorite parts of Houston culture?
Food definitely. Houston food culture is one-of-a-kind. Our car culture, shout out to my car collection. Our music, what Houston style first was to what it morphed into now. There’s multiple people in every lane — all proven to be successful. It’s dope we’re not restricted to one style. People come out here, you could have a Sauce Walka style; a Paul Wall, Slim Thug, Chamillionaire style; a Scarface, Bun B, Bushwick Bill style. Rest in peace Bushwick. You could have the Travis Scott, Don Toliver style. Lizzo, Megan both have different styles. There’s a whole lane of people right behind Megan doing the same style she’s killing it with. You’re not restricted to one or the other. You can do it all.
How does it feel to have your debut album, The People’s Champ, turn 15 this year?
It’s great to know it aged well. When you’re in the moment, you might be caught up in whatever the trend might be or trying to get the most out of your marketing. When it comes down to the art of it, you want it to be loved and respected for years to come. Not just now, today. Fifteen years later for people to show love, it feels great. I feel honored to work with so many dope producers, engineers, artists. At that time, they all were ahead of me, but still young in their careers. To see where they progressed — damn I got a song with this person, this person. Kanye West, T.I., Lil Wayne, Trey Songz, B.G. always been one of my favorites. Having “Sittin’ Sidewayz” with Big Pokey, the artist I revere more than anyone to this day. The greatest. Originally, “Sittin Sidewayz” was with Lil Keke and Big Pokey. Being they’re both independent artists and neither was signed, Atlantic Records made me choose which one was going to be on the hook. We put Big Pokey on a verse too, and kept Lil Keke for the remix.
What’s the meaning behind your Subculture album title?
Well, I’ve always been underground. I came up with Swishahouse, where my heart is. The music I listen to is underground. I never, ever liked anything mainstream. Even when I was on mainstream labels, I was conflicted within myself... The true essence of the art I’m trying to make is more underground, but we’re in the mainstream. So, you got to take advantage of the opportunities. We strive to go the big leagues. The Migos put out their album Culture, everybody’s quoting, “Doing it for the culture.” It’s very important to be authentic to the culture, true to who you are.
I wanted to represent one time for the subculture, the underground. It’s an underground base. My boy Mike Frost has done every cover I ever had. Like the comic book strips, they got the underground bases. We put our own underground base together, it has the Houston skyline up there. The “Be Someone” bridge iconic to the Houston skyline in downtown is always getting defaced. Right now, it says Vote Or Die. When George Floyd died, it said George Floyd for the longest. We defaced with Subculture. Little aspects of my life on the artwork, like a mystery you need to zoom in.
What does it mean to be the “Ice Man”?
It’s a nickname I’ve always had ever since “Grillz” with Nelly. I said, “It’s the Ice Man Paul Wall.” People always call me Ice Man. There’s always been various ice men, different jewelers in California and Houston. Vanilla Ice was an ice man, George Gervin was an ice man. Who I am as an ice man is unique. Being somebody who’s always been icy, always sold grills and jewelry, bring it back one time.
How many grillz do you have?
Oh man, a lot of them. As my teeth shift over the years, they don’t fit anymore, so I retire them and keep them on display at the store. I usually got at least 20 different sets over the years. A lot of times, if me and Johnny got a new style or something we’re trying to do, we’ll be our own test subject. We’ll be our own guinea pig. “What you think of this? Let me get one for me first.”
What’s your stance on Black Lives Matter and how can you continue to push the narrative?
It’s so interesting, you see so many different people’s take on it. Where are they getting their information from? I had the opportunity to work with the local Houston chapter on several occasions. It gets painted with a very broad brush where anything negative happens gets grouped in and labeled Black Lives Matter. The protests, the rallies, the marches I’ve been to, they weren’t violent. No destruction of property. Black Lives Matter was at almost all of ‘em.
Everybody isn’t perfect. They say the chant, “Pigs in a blanket, fry ‘em like bacon.” I’ve never once heard that chant in person, I’ve seen it in a video. The chant we hear is, “No justice, no peace. No racist police.” Who’d be against that? Who’d be for racist police? Who could be for injustice? It gets exhausting sometimes to hear so many people be so close-minded, but have all the answers. Love to hear themselves speak.
What does white privilege mean to you?
I’ve always been backline. I’m involved, I’m there, but I’m in the back not the front. I’ma add my voice, I’ma speak when called on internally by God to speak. I try to be open and let other people’s voices be heard. When you have a platform, where do you walk the line of being educated or informed or speaking from the heart? Nobody’s perfect. It’s always a head scratcher to me, the people we deem experts or leaders. The career politicians who aren’t active trying to make change, just trying to stay in office. They get exhausted.
We all have different paths, different lives. Being somebody who’s in the middle, I’ve had both a horrible life and an incredible life. I get to meet, deal with, interact with, help a lot of people. Some people only have their perspective, they think that’s the entire world. They don’t know there’s so many different angles. If you [are] watching a controversial play on the football field, was he on the line or was he out of bounds? Did he have control of the ball? If it’s a basketball play, was it before or after the buzzer? They have so many camera angles to show so many different perspectives.
That’s life, we all got so many different perspectives. They all add to what the real is. It adds to our prejudice whether it be you don’t like this type of food or drink, or going to this type of city because you heard [of] whatever happened in this city. I realize a lot of people in all parts of this country have never interacted with these groups of people. All you have is what you see on TV, what somebody’s telling you.
I’m in the grocery store, there’s an old man walking by with a Make America Great Again hat [on]. Same old man I usually see with a military hat on because he’s a war veteran. We lock eyes. I got a mask on, he doesn’t. He’s in the age group where he should be wearing a mask. It boils you, it triggers you. What I had on was triggering him, as well. I’m not adversarial where I’m trying to argue with everybody.
I have this conversation with my wife and my kids all the time. Where does our life go? What destination are we trying to get to? A million dollars? Are we trying to buy property and renovate our neighborhood? Are we trying to own our own house? We’re trying to pay for our kids to go to college? What’s our family goal? People want that million dollars. If I spend time and energy getting distracted by this person, it prevents me from getting that million dollars or prolongs it.
My wife’s Black, I have mixed children. I get death threats and hate all the time. Usually it’s more Twitter or Facebook. With the social media policies, it gets taken down right away before I even have to say anything. You have to remain focused. It’s so easy to get distracted by the hate. It’s a different era, so we have to call people out.
I do want to slap the shit out of people, but you have to hold back. They feel a certain way when they see me. I don’t have all the answers. If Malcolm X couldn’t come up with it, I damn sure can’t. If Marcus Garvey’s answer didn’t work, what am I going to add? I try to keep an open mind — not knowing it all. It’s crazy being an artist where a portion of my fanbase might be racist. It’s weird knowing that. It’s delicate because I don’t want anybody racist listening to me. I’m not afraid to call somebody out or correct them.