Studio Sessions | Paul Wall recalls first song with Chamillionaire and making Kanye West’s “Drive Slow”
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” Paul Wall details what he had to do to get on Kanye West’s “Drive Slow,” recording his first ever song with Chamillionaire, and much more.
Paul Wall has collaborated with Bun B, Chamillionaire, Jermaine Dupri, T.I. and so many other MCs in his 20+ year rap career. None of those collaborations took more to get done than his appearance on Kanye West’s “Drive Slow.”
“Kanye told me he was coming down to Houston for the KAPPA Beach Party with Scarface and asked us to pull up on him and Mike Dean with the grills. I meet him at Mike Dean’s house to give him his grills and he’s mixing ‘Diamonds from Sierra Leone,’” Wall told REVOLT.
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” the rap legend details what he had to do to get on Kanye West’s song, recording his first ever song with Chamillionaire, and how Red Bull SoundClash Houston showed the diversity of the southern hip hop sound. Read below.
What do you remember about your first ever studio session?
Chamillionaire and I were very young. This was before Google, so we had to research local studios that were real studios. They charged $35 per hour, which was a lot for us. We went in there and didn’t know how studio sessions went. We didn’t have beats or anything. The guy was basically like, “Where’s the beat?” We asked him the same thing. That was our first time in the studio. We didn’t walk away with anything (laughs). We didn’t record anything.
When did you two finally record together?
Chamillionaire and I lived on the same street growing up, and we had a homeboy who played football for Rice University and rapped a bit too. He was in college and we weren’t even in high school yet. He had his own makeshift studio at their dorm or whatever. We went over there, recorded some shit, and it was the first time we recorded. I remember we had this song on this beat he had, which was a remake of the Young & Restless theme song. We called it “Young and From Texas.” It was alright, all things considered. If I had it now, I wouldn’t let you hear it (laughs).
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What’s a typical studio session for Paul Wall right now?
Depends on if I’m doing something with other people or me by myself. If it’s me by myself, I’m typically working on a list of songs I have. I’ll have 50 songs. A lot of them would just be the beat. Some of them would be the beat and a title. Some would have a verse. A lot of them would have verses I’ll redo. Some songs I’ll have will be like, “OK, when Slim Thug come over here, or Lil Keke and Z-Ro, this is for them because I know they’ll come up with something for it.”
What’s your most memorable studio session?
“Drive Slow” was an experience, and not just the recording in the studio. “Grillz” was the same. Also, the song “So Gone” I did with Jill Scott. We did a song before that and I didn’t make the cut. That was my biggest regret until I got a second chance when she came to me like, “I have another song.”
How did “Drive Slow” come about?
Back then, Kanye wasn’t Yeezy. He was dope and an elite artist/producer, but he wasn’t who he is now. Even at the time, I knew meeting him would be special. Another artist on the same label as me did a song with him and he said it’d be his single. That artist wanted a soul sample beat, but Kanye was moving away from that. The artist didn’t want that. But, instead of telling Kanye that, he just did it. Next thing we know, he doesn’t use the song. I met Kanye at a photoshoot for KING Magazine. Kanye came in like, “This is supposed to be a hip hop event. There are no cyphers going on? Play a beat.” Then he just started freestyling. He was looking for someone else to rap, and I was in my prime ready to freestyle. Kanye and I go off to the side afterwards and he told me, “I didn’t know if you were going to fuck with me because your boy didn’t fuck with me.” I told him, “I’d love to fuck with you on any beat you want to give me.”
He asked me for grills like mine and I told him, “I got the mold kit right here.” Before we both headed out to the airport, I get his grill molds to bring back home to Johnny [Dang]. We make his grills. Kanye told me he was coming down to Houston for the KAPPA Beach Party with Scarface and asked us to pull up on him and Mike Dean with the grills. I meet him at Mike Dean’s house to give him his grills and he’s mixing “Diamonds from Sierra Leone.” Plain Pat was his A&R and he was trying to sign me to Def Jam. For whatever reason, L.A. Reid wasn’t trying to sign me. But, Plain Pat and I were still cool friends. He said, “I’m A&R’ing Ye’s album. I asked him if he was down to give Paul Wall a shot and he was down. He might not use your verse or the song at all.” He wanted me to go to L.A. to record it, and it was right after Mike Jones was on “Punk’d.”
So, you thought you were being set up?
Well, when Gu and I land in LAX and go down to baggage claim, one detective came to me and one came to Gu. They were asking us millions of questions. I was immediately thinking, “They’re trying to punk me.” I started talking crazy to the L.A. sheriff. Gu was like, “We’re not being Punk’d. These are real officers.” They ended up leaving and I was like, “Where’’s Ashton Kutcher at?'” (Laughs). We go to the hotel and then go to the studio to meet Ye. While I was doing my verse, Nas was doing his verse [for “We Major”]. I’ll never forget any of that. I didn’t know it was coming out until DJ Drama called me from Ye’s listening session during the week of release asking, “You’re on Kanye West’s album? I just heard you.”
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You’re hosting Red Bull SoundClash Houston. How does the versatility of southern music explain the connection between New Orleans and Houston?
At Red Bull SoundClash, you’ll have Tank and The Bangas, and The Suffers that are big soul bands, so you’ll see the brass instruments. When I perform, I just have a DJ. Having that New Orleans bounce and Houston blues, there’ll be collaborations of all of that. SoundClash is more of a battle, but tonight it’s more of a celebration. They’ll be playing songs together and finishing each other’s music.
Which of your hits took the quickest to make?
“Still Tippin” was the absolute quickest. That probably took 5-10 minutes. We were in Michael Watts’ house and there was a certain vibe. We held the microphone, we didn’t have a mic stand. We didn’t have a pop filter, we put a t-shirt over the mic. It was a freestyle, raw vibe. We didn’t want it to be polished. That was around when Chamillionaire and I went our separate ways. No labels wanted to fuck with me. T. Farris was like, “I asked Watts and Dash, and they both love you. The Swisher House doors are always open for you. We’re not trying to recruit you. But, if you ever want to sign with us, you can always join.” He didn’t know that was the only offer I had.
What’s coming up for you in 2022?
In 2022, I’m doing a lot of touring and a lot of new music. Baby Bash and I put out a group album every year called The Leaglizers. It’s a pro-cannabis project and we’re working on the third part. I also have a few solo albums coming. One is called The Great Wall. I got a few others I’m piecing together. I’m coming to a city near you.
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