Paul Wall Had a Great Year

While the Houston legend is mainly remembered for his mid-2000s run of Southern rap classics, Paul Wall is currently making some of the most vital music of his career, Dean Van Nguyen writes.
By    January 3, 2023

Photo via Paul Wall/Instagram

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Dean Van Nguyen‘s Top 20 movies of the year list deserves some shine.

Have you seen Paul Wall lately? He’s aging as well as the first Mummy movie. Now into his 40s, Wall can still pull off those trucker hats, thick chains, and oversized tracksuits—even if he’s also discovering the benefits of a sharp fit at his big age. The specks of gray in his beard frame that famous “mouth like a disco ball,” his eyes still glimmer with juvenile impertinence. Do us a favor and drop the skin care routine, Paul.

Complimenting his healthy exterior isn’t superficial. If Paul Wall looks great, it’s because he’s doing so well. I’ve noted a lot of love being dispensed to him on social media lately for being the epitome of a respectful white presence in Black culture. Some of this is probably rooted in remembrance for his mid-2000s run and Southern rap classics like the platinum-selling The People’s Champ. But Wall is currently making some of the most vital music of his career. His take on Texas rap is classicist; that thick, naturally melodic drawl feels DJ Screw-indebted even when not chopped ‘n’ screwed. And has anyone ever said their own name cooler? Paul Wall, like warm honey. He still invokes the chart-conquering Southern adventures of Ludacris, Nelly, Chamillionaire—pick your own pre-crunk favorite. His good-time rhymes about cars, cash, women, and bling feel as timeless as tequila.

Wall’s major endeavor of 2022 was Start 2 Finish, a joint album with Termanology, another white rapper of the same vintage, but one who couldn’t parlay a collaboration with Christina Aguilera into bigger stardom. The two rappers own some of the catchiest rap songs of the year. The glorious, Pete Rock-produced “Recognize My Car” pulls a few words and much of the theme from Wall’s old Kanye collaboration “Drive Slow,” but rather slowly crawling through the streets to a mournful sample of Hank Crawford’s “Wildflower,” it encapsulates the feelings of affirmation that come with turning heads as you cruise around the block. There’s something wholesome about picturing Wall behind the wheel, “getting’ love in Houston like Yao Ming.”

Statik Selectah is generally a hit-and-miss producer, but helming six of Start 2 Finish’s 10 tracks, his beats here are as smooth and unfussy as Wall and Term’s flow. “Ask Permission” and “Clubber Lang” feature orchestral horn samples that run like luxury cruise liners in calm waters. Bun B joins the party on cinematic “Thailand.”; there’s a highlight in the pretty boom-bap of “No Tolerance.” In all, you’d be hard pressed to find a more listenable rap album released in the last 12 months.

While Start 2 Finish was slickly executed, a more rugged companion exists in The Legalizers 3: Plant Based, the latest installment in Wall’s series with Baby Bash, a lesser rapper than Paul, but a decent foil for music about weed and weed only. Here, Wall is even more laid back. “I Stay High” is screwed down low, the sour whistle sounding like it was ripped from The Ohio Players’ “Funky Worm,” more famous for providing the lynchpin on NWA’s “Dopeman”—that’s how thick the atmosphere is here. The tugboat bassline of “Ro One Fo the Po One” invokes vintage Snoop Dogg. There are no alternative angles: tracks have titles like “Ain’t Nothin Finer Than Smoking Designer”; there are regular moments of Wall’s voice simply repeating the mantra “Legalize.”

If that’s not enough, we can throw a couple of Wall’s 2022 loosies in for good measure. See “Just Be Cool,” a collab with Dorrough Music, another ode to his car. Wall calls himself “the parking lot heartbreaker” like he’s the cool kid in a 1950s rock ‘n’ roll movie and makes it funny. Or there’s the duo’s “Funny,” which connects early 1990s dance music and new jack swing. Paul Wall’s probably not trying to be a poster boy for aging gracefully in rap, but he’s still shining, still the people’s champion of H-Town, and like any championship, the title can’t be erased from his name.

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