The year was 2005. After years of dominance by New York, L.A. Atlanta and Chicago, hip-hop nation was suddenly confronted by an invasion from a young, upstart city - Houston. America suddenly couldn’t get enough of the Texas city’s syrup sippin, wood grain grippin, grillz wearin, chopped and screwed style. You couldn’t turn on the radio or tv anywhere in the nation without hearing the southern soaked sounds of UGK, Paul Wall, Chamillionaire, Slim Thug, Mike Jones (Who? Mike Jones!) and a host of other H-Town rappers. And then, as quickly as it rose, Houston …
Fans can also check out Paul Wall's previous albums: Paul Wall - Get Money, Stay True
DJBooth Album Review
While some of those rappers continue to successfully make music nationally, most notably Cham and Bun B, Houston’s collective glory days have faded, and in many ways Paul Wall’s career has mirrored his hometown’s rise and fall. After Wall helped usher in Houston’s golden era with his #1 album The People’s Champ, his sophomore album Get Money, Stay True didn’t make as large of an impact as his debut, and his last album, 2009’s Fast Life, came and went with only a fraction of the attention he had once commanded. Despite his success in other fields, as an artist it wouldn’t be a stretch to call his new album, Heart of a Champion, a comeback attempt. Produced entirely by the deliciously named Beanz N Kornbread and rocker/Wall’s business partner Travis Barker, it’s hard to believe Heart of a Champion will truly put Houston on the map, but it will serve notice that the man’s far from done laying it down.
I once proclaimed Wall to be the King of the Simile (for those who slept through English class, a simile is a figure of speech comparing two unlike things), and on Heart of a Champion’s lead track Take Notes he proves that, despite hip-hop head’s rush to dismiss him, he’s a legitimately skilled emcee: “I’m flier than a flock of ducks…These haters flaky as pie crust and as sensitive as an iTouch.” Ah, it’s good to have the King back on his throne. Actually, Wall’s been back since the album’s lead single I’m on Patron dropped months ago. A slowly pacing and appropriately inebriated cut, it came just a little too late in the Patron-tracks trend to truly blow up, but it’s an enjoyable listen regardless. While Heart of a Champion is filled with the tequila, diamonds, cars and cash that Patron suggests, the album does deviate from the expected, most notably on the soulful Live It, a jazz-fueled cut that brings on Raekwon and Jay Electronica for rhymes about struggle and poverty. It’s as gritty a track as we’ve ever heard from Paul, and if he had taken more opportunities to defy the predictable the album could have been truly remarkable. Unfortunately, instead we get…
By all accounts Wall is an intensely loyal man; as we hear on the electronically soaked banger and sure to be future single My City. But unfortunately his loyalty and willingness to put on his fellow Southern rappers is what drags Heart of a Champion down. We may as well start with the worst of the bunch, Stay Iced Out. Johnny Dang may be Houston’s go to jeweler, but he’s such an unbelievably bad rapper it’s hard to tell if Wall is doing him a favor or making him fun of him by letting him spit on Iced Out. Similarly, Lil Keke may be Wall’s homeboy, but he’s frankly a mediocre rapper at best and sounds like a cheap man’s Paul Wall throughout his work on Showin Skillz. And while philosophically Not My Friend, which brings on Wall’s crew Expensive Taste, may be admirable, on a musical level it’s barely listenable when Paul’s not on the mic. Paul’s far from the first major rapper to attempt to drag lesser rappers into the spotlight with him (see Murphy Lee, Tony Yayo, etc. etc.), but while it may earn him points in H-Town, those not as devoted to the city as Wall will find themselves hitting the skip button throughout Heart of a Champion.
Ultimately Paul Wall may be perfectly happy to run his city, but if Heart of a Champion is any indication his days as a truly powerful player in the national game are numbered, if not already done. The days when Wall had all of America Sittin Sidewayz are over, unless Wall can somehow put together one of the more remarkable comebacks in hip-hop history. Here’s hoping for a comeback.
DJBooth Rating - 3 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 07/12/10
First DJ Booth Appearance:
"Break Em Off ft. Lil' KeKe" (2006)
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