Paul Wall

Paul Wall
Paul Wall

The 29-year-old rapper has had phenomenal success with his own recordings and in collaboration with Chamillionaire, Mike Jones, and others. He has recently become president of the Texas chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences—the people who give out the Grammys—and is releasing his fifth album, Heart of a Champion (Swishahouse). He lives in Houston with his wife, Crystal, and their two children.

The advance copy of your new album has a song called “Codeine” that’s a pretty tough look at drug addiction. You got your start in a hip-hop scene where cough syrup was the drug of choice and was central to the music. What prompted you to write the song? That was actually my wife’s idea. It’s a remake of Dolly Parton’s song “Jolene,” but where Dolly Parton was saying, “Jolene, please don’t take my man,” we’re saying “codeine.” That’s something we were going through, me and my wife, my family. I was addicted to codeine, and it was stealing me away from them. To be honest, though, I don’t think we got clearance [for the song sample] in time, so we might have to save it for the next album.

Can you tell me a bit more about your experiences with codeine? In the hip-hop community, it’s kind of cool to take codeine; it’s kind of like marijuana. When you smoke weed, people don’t look at it like you’re smoking drugs—they think it’s cool. But codeine is an actual narcotic; it’s like liquid heroin. It was a real hard thing for me to kick, especially because people didn’t treat it like it was a real drug. When you’re sipping on codeine, you get a little lazy, you get fat—but that’s something people accept in Texas, because we’re one of the most obese states in the country. All my friends are fat.

How did you manage to kick the habit? My biological father was addicted to heroin, and he left me and my sister when I was about four or five years old. That was always my main fear: I don’t want to be him. I don’t want to turn into him.

Let’s jump topics a little bit. Tell me how you became involved with the Recording Academy. It started in 2007, after I got nominated for a Grammy. Theresa Jenkins, the executive director of the Texas chapter, reached out to me to perform at an event at Fort Hood for the troops returning home, and then, as time went on, I got more familiar with what the Academy was and how my voice can be heard there. And so I ran for a spot on the board of governors, became a governor, and the next thing you know, there was a vacancy coming up for the presidency. I don’t want to let anybody down, especially since I kind of don’t know what I’m doing. But I ran and I ended up winning.

You’re in Los Angeles now. Are you going to stay out there? Nah, I’m just out here recording the album. My home is in Houston. I’ve actually been thinking about moving to Austin when I’m ready to make my next album. Being in different places and working with different people brings something different out of me. Also, my grandmother lived in Austin, and I grew up going there all the time, so I fell in love with the city, especially the music. I’d like to team up with somebody like Willie Nelson or Ray Benson.

Are you a fan of country music? Not as much as I am of hip-hop, but in Texas, there’s definitely a country influence. I take a lot of pride in being from Texas. I love all parts of Texas—even the things I hate about Texas I love. My wife’s a real big country fan. One time, we were driving back and forth from L.A. to Houston, and we wrote a country song together.

Can you sing a verse for me?

Nah.

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