Andrew Barber sits down for a revealing conversation with Paul Wall, which gets into the details behind the Houston rapper-DJ-entrepreneur’s origins, successes, grillz and more.
Houston, TX, is on intimate terms with rap culture. From the emergence of the Geto Boys and Rap-A-Lot Records in the late ‘80s to the groundbreaking sounds of DJ Screw, the city’s impact on hip-hop cannot be overstated. Houston currently boasts some of the hottest artists in the biz: Travis Scott, Lizzo and Megan Thee Stallion included. And it remains the home of Paul Wall, a native son who has been representing the city for nearly 20 years.
Born Paul Slayton, Paul Wall is a true renaissance man. As a teenager, he cut his teeth doing street-team promotional work in America’s fourth largest market. Rubbing shoulders with local stars and record-label reps, he met regional power players who respected his hustle, work ethic and marketing savvy. Soon, he started deejaying at some of Texas’ hottest radio stations and clubs.
By chance, Paul also befriended a New York City man known as Crime who taught him how to make grillz — custom, removable gold teeth that can be stylized with diamonds and other gems. The Texan soon mastered the craft and received orders from across the country. Eventually, Paul partnered with storied jeweler Johnny Dang and constructed grillz for the likes of Beyonce, Jay-Z, Venus and Serena Williams and Kendall and Kylie Jenner.
As the South became a dominant force in hip-hop, Paul’s profile continued to rise. He chopped and screwed major-label albums from the likes of T.I. and Lil Boosie. A collaborative effort with fellow Houstonian Chamillionaire furthered his career. The Source named the duo’s record one of its top independent albums of 2002, but their union fractured, leaving Paul to fend for himself as a solo artist.
His breakthrough came in late 2004. While the original version was created for a 2003 Swishahouse compilation, a remake of Mike Jones’ “Still Tippin’” — featuring a new, scene-stealing closing verse from Paul — exploded. Houston turned into hip-hop’s hotbed, and its associated culture of cars, jewelry and sounds drew national attention. As one of the city’s in-demand artists, Paul lent his unique flow and slang to hits by Kanye West (“Drive Slow”) and Nelly (“Grillz”). His 2005 major-label debut, “The People’s Champ,” also went platinum.
Paul has been in the public eye ever since. He and Dang operate Johnny Dang & Co., a jewelry store that doubles as the world’s largest grillz shop. And he keeps churning out music, most recently releasing his 12th solo album, “Subculture,” in October 2020.
More than a decade ago, Paul teamed with Swishahouse on “Ain’t No 401k for a Hustler.” That mixtape’s title still rings true for an icon who has never lost his ambition, drive, commitment or optimism —traits that come to the fore as naturally as Paul’s passion during our career-spanning conversation.
Andrew Barber is the owner/creator of Fake Shore Drive, a Chicago-based media, management and events company founded in 2007. Andrew is also a playlist curator, published music journalist, artist manager, brand and record label consultant and media personality. Andrew currently sits as Governor of The Recording Academy’s Grammy board. His radio show, The Drive on Shade 45, airs weekly on SiriusXM, and has been on air for over six years. He has also hosted programming on MTV and one of Chicago’s top radio stations, 107.5 WGCI-FM. As a journalist, Andrew has been published in publications such as VICE, Complex, Fader, XXL, Mass Appeal and more. Andrew’s company, Fake Shore Drive, has been instrumental in the rise of Chicago’s hip-hop scene, having helped cultivate the careers of Chance the Rapper, Chief Keef, Lil Durk, Vic Mensa and the many other gold- and platinum-selling artists.