Paul Wall, born Paul Slayton back in 1981, is a Houston, Texas-based rapper-slash-entrepreneur, probably better known for his side business crafting diamond-encrusted braces for your teeth (or "grillz", if you're so inclined) than he is for his actual rhymes, although he's sure recorded a shit-ton of songs for albums and mixtapes alike. He's also the current president of the Texas chapter of the Grammy Awards, which probably means that the folks who nominate for that sort of thing aren't altogether familiar with Slayton's work.
Paulie had built up a cult following in his hometown with his cameos on songs from the likes of Slim Thug and Mike Jones, and his collaborative albums with former friend and fellow Houstonite Chamillionaire, ultimately building up his name enough to convince Swishahouse, the indie he was attached to, that a solo album may be a good idea. In 2004, Chick Magnet hit local store shelves, and after catching the ears of Atlantic Records, Paulie soon found himself recording his major label debut, The Peoples Champ, set for release the following year.
I've never listened to this album before, so that's really all I have right now. (Sorry, but I'm fucking exhausted right now.)
1. I'M A PLAYA (FEAT. THREE 6 MAFIA)
The first track on Paul Wall's major label debut satisfies the need for him to introduce himself to the masses, thanks to the booming beat provided by DJ Paul and Juicy J of the Academy Award-winning Three 6 Mafia. The duo also pop up in a guest capacity as well, unleashing a middle verse that is as ineffective as it is unmemorable, but Paul handles the first and third stanzas with ease, rapping like a guy whose other business pursuits have built up so much wealth and goodwill that this rap shit is an afterthought. Which is to say that he doesn't sound bad, but he didn't have any reason to try and sound like the next big thing in white rappers, so he definitely does not.
2. THEY DON'T KNOW (FEAT. MIKE JONES)
Gridiron Glow-Ree gives Paulie and his Swishahouse crony Mike Jones, the guy who was so confident that he used to give out his actual cell phone number in his songs until people stopped giving enough of a fuck to call, a surprisingly good instrumental to ride out to, and I say "surprisingly" because it isn't my normal cup of tea. The lyrics for the track, which was lifted from Paul's debut Chick Magnet, all revolve around the idea that the listener must not be from the Houston area because there are a lot of things that one must learn about before taking up residency, thereby alienating the largest portion of their fanbase, folks who actually live in Texas, already know about everything these guys rattle off, and can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Paul Wall and Mike Jones aren't accurately portraying the Lone Star State in their respective verses. However, this doesn't sound all that bad, so maybe there's a little bit of truth in this.
3. RIDIN' DIRTY (FEAT. TREY SONGZ)
It's a good thing that this song is boring as shit, or else I'd feel really bad that "Ridin' Dirty" was eclipsed by Paul's former friend Chamillionaire's hit single "Ridin'" only a few short months later. This track is nowhere near as catchy as "Ridin'": the entire song comes across as a miscalculation of epic proportions, with Paul Wall delivering unappealing verses over a shitty beat from Gridiron Glow-Ree, with overrated R&B singer Trey Songz slumming it with a horrible chorus that should have gotten him run out of the game. Which probably means that this shit is your favoritest song ever. To which I say, man, you have some terrible taste in music.
4. STATE TO STATE (FEAT. FREEWAY)
Beardy is most certainly the weirdest guest to appear on The Peoples Champ. (There's a much bigger name that appears later in the evening, but his situation doesn't count, for reasons we'll get into later.) Sanchez Holmes (a great producer name, by the way) gives our host an instrumental that Freeway can't help but sound awkward over, but I have to give him credit for branching out all the way to Houston in the first place, as most artists wouldn't jump so far out of their comfort zones like that. So it's with a heavy heart I report that Freeway's verse and chorus are motherfucking terrible. Paulie doesn't fare any better, but this is his wheelhouse, and hearing Free clash with the beat makes for some horrible noise that should never be heard by anybody.
5. SO MANY DIAMONDS (FEAT. T.I.)
This was fucking terrible. That is all.
6. SMOOTH OPERATOR
Paul Wall finally has a track all to himself on The Peoples Champ, so what does he do? He tries hitting on chicks, promising "orgasmic pleasure" over a Kool Kojak instrumental that contains celebratory horns that may be considered a metaphor for the act of ejaculation into the hair and eyes of your lady friend, although I'll be nice right now and say that the beat sounds as though it would have been a better fit for a rap album intro. The weird thing is, Paulie probably has absolutely no problem getting ass each and every fucking day, so he probably doesn't even need this song: merely telling a woman that he happens to be Paul Wall may be enough. Money is a hell of a drug.
7. SITTIN' SIDEWAYZ (FEAT. BIG POKEY)
This is the only single from The Peoples Champ that I was familiar with prior to writing this review, and, full disclosure here, I actually liked it back in the day. Salih Williams gives Paul Wall a dope fucking instrumental that transcends coastal restrictions, but still maintains a distinctive Houston sound nonetheless. (This is made all the more clear when Jay-Z used the beat for a mixtape freestyle: even the almighty Hova had to alter his own flow to fit the beat. Then again, he now has in-laws in H-Town, so maybe they gave him some pointers.) "Sittin' Sidewayz" was one of the only songs back in 2005 that I could tolerate Paulie's flow on, and in listening to The Peoples Champ today, it still kind of is. However, I'm only seven tracks in, so I'm still trying to keep a positive attitude. I could do without Big Pokey's third verse entirely, though, as the man brings nothing to the table, except maybe some Catholic guilt, which may be why Paul Wall allowed him on the track to begin with.
8. INTERNET GOING NUTZ
This was just fucking ridiculous. Over a cheesy instrumental provided by KLC, formerly of Beats By The Pound fame, Paulie essentially uses the internet to bag chicks left and right, using "chat rooms" (do those still exist these days?) and Facebook to collect screen names and look up pictures of potential conquests, never once cautious about the fact that there are many people who portray themselves online in a different light than they are in real life. Hasn't he ever seen that shitty movie Catfish five years after this song was recorded? Some of the outdated lingo was funny to hear, but this song truly only exists because Paul wrote a line on Mike Jones's "Still Tippin'" that KLC decided would sound good as the chorus for this random-ass track. You may find it humorous, but it'll never be anybody's favorite song.
9. TRILL (FEAT. B.G. & BUN B)
There seems to be a remix to "They Don't Know" where Mike Jones is replaced by UGK's Bun B, which is probably the much more popular version, as Bun is generally considered to be a Houston institution. Why that version of that song doesn't appear on The Peoples Champ is beyond me, but Bun does pop up on here to fulfill Paulie's need to appease every demographic. For some reason, there are four credited producers on "Trill", but none of them appear to have brought any sort of melody to the track, so the song focuses more on destroying the speakers in your car than it does actually sounding like music. B.G., late of the Cash Money Records incarnation that existed before Lil Wayne became the face of the company, pops in with a surprising third verse (well, "surprising" if you didn't read the song credits, I guess) that doesn't sound completely terrible, mainly because he comes off as just as tuneless as the instrumental. Oh, and Paul Wall appeared on here, too.
10. SIPPIN' THE BARRE
Follows the exact same formula as "Sittin' Sidewayz", all the way down to using a vocal sample from an entirely different track to serve as the hook on here. Paul Wall's ode to sippin' on some sizzurp is actually successful in invoking the slow roll effect that driving around Houston while actually chugging that drank will give you. However, have any of you ever actually driven around in Houston? Many of the streets there are so fucked up that driving around while high may result in your car driving into a pothole and drowning in it. The song itself wasn't that bad, though.
11. DRIVE SLOW (KANYE WEST FEAT. PAUL WALL & GLC)
As you can probably tell from the way the guest list is written out, this is not a Paul Wall song: instead, it happens to be a Kanye West song (taken from Late Registration) which happened to include Paulie's highest-profile guest appearance to date. West's production causes The Peoples Champ to stop in its tracks, not because it's bad or anything (indeed, "Drive Slow" was one of Late Registration's highlights), but because it sounds so completely different (and more well thought-out, as 'Ye is a known perfectionist) than everything else on here that it sticks out like a sore thumb in a bag of middle fingers. Although I question its inclusion in the first place, I still enjoy "Drive Slow", specifically GLC's and Kanye's respective verses, so I can't actually complain about this. Which upsets me a great deal.
12. MARCH 'N' STEP (FEAT. LIL WAYNE)
This one's kind of weird, in that the back cover promises a guest appearance from something called the Grit Boys (whom I am obviously not all that familiar with), but the song itself actually features Lil Weezy on the middle verse. As the Wayne that appears on here is the most clear and concise I've ever heard from the guy, I'm pretty sure that (a) it was recorded while he was still a student at the University of Houston, where he was pursuing a degree in psychology just in case this music shit didn't pan out (he eventually completed his degree through the online University of Phoenix, apparently), and (b) it was recorded just before he began his mixtape onslaught that has brought him to his present position at or very near the top of our chosen genre (for better or for worse). Still wasn't a fan, though.
13. GOT PLEX (FEAT. ARCHIE LEE & COOTABANG)
Features guest appearances from Archie Lee (of Houston's Screwed-Up Click) and something named Cootabang, who, according to Discogs, never recorded another verse after this. "Got Plex" sounds like a bunch of noise, with Paulie's chorus barely distinguishing itself from the verses, so that this track sounds like one long, boring dissertation. Moving on...
Producer Speez also handled the instrumental for "Got Plex", and, to his credit, this song sounds completely different from the previous track. It almost has an old-school love rap feel, which is appropriate enough, right up until the vocal sample from The Chi-Lites's "Oh Girl" kicks in and leaves you with a weird taste in your mouth. "Girl" is the result of Paul Wall aiming for every possible demographic, but while he may sound sincere enough during his verses, the track itself isn't really anything that should be listened to. Ever.
15. BIG BALLIN'
Gridiron Glow-Ree's instrumental reminds me of The Lonely Island's "Turtleneck & Chain", which is probably never a good comparison to draw from. Paulie doesn't sound bad: at this point in his career, he sounded confident with his shit-talking, which wasn't really vicious as much as it was explanabragatory. So this was a silly diversion, but in no way a terrible one.
16. SIP-N-GET HIGH (FEAT. AQUALEO)
This wasn't completely awful. Alan Sampson's production doesn't really fit the proceedings, but the lyrics, which retain a positive outlook even though the subtext hides a darker theme, were decent enough. Paulie is especially successful in getting his point across during the third verse. The hook is kind of hilarious, though: it's almost like guest star Aqualeo (that name rolls right off of your tongue, doesn't it?) ran out of ink in his pen while jotting down his thoughts, and instead sang "la la la" as a placeholder that accidentally made the final cut.
17. JUST PAUL WALL
Paulie ends The People's Champ with a semi-autobiographical song, describing what he's gone through during his lifetime and chastising those who have prejudged him without having ever met him. I have to admit, the man has a point: based on his back catalog and his business acumen thus far, he may have actually earned everything that he has right now, and he even manages to come across as a nice-enough guy on here. The song itself wasn't so great, but that's more because of the weak instrumental and the wordy chorus. But this could have been much worse.
THE LAST WORD: Paul Wall's The Peoples Champ isn't really that bad of a representation of Houston's hip hop scene circa 2005. The focus on riding around while sipping on prescription cough syrup was to be expected, and most of the beats on here reflect that questionable lifestyle. While I wasn't looking forward to the actual lyrics, though, I was pleasantly surprised by Paul's earnestness behind the mic, if not his actual bars: his flow comes across as lazy, but that's all by design, as he remains consistently casual with his vision throughout all seventeen tracks on The Peoples Champ. A heavy reliance on guests, most of whom are bigger names than our host, hampers the momentum a bit, and the project runs longer than it absolutely has to, but I've heard worse albums come out of the Houston area.