By Carlton Wade
GRIP: Why did you and other Houston rappers decide to open new accounts with black-owned Unity National Bank of Houston?
Paul Wall: When we saw Killer Mike and T.I. opened accounts with the black banks in Atlanta, we thought “let’s see if we can do that.” Come to find out, there is Unity Bank, which started in Third Ward and been around for 53 years. And we never even knew about it. But when we did it, it was powerful seeing all of us at the bank—especially seeing me and Johnny there with Johnny being Asian and me being not black.
Is your money as safe there as it would be in Regions, Wells Fargo or Bank of America?
It’s insured by the FDIC, the same people who insure Wells Fargo, Chase Bank, Bank of America, every bank. Your money is good there. Us putting our money there in savings is giving them opportunity to give out loans to people who want to start businesses up. Unity Bank specializes in small business loans. Lack of opportunity in the hood is one of the main problems. When you don’t have a job, you gone result to selling drugs, stealing or robbing.
Speaking of small businesses, your wife Crystal is a black business owner of MixFitz Studios. Have you had any personal dealings with banks and loans for her fitness gym?
We’ve been turned down by Wells Fargo many times. I’m not saying that Unity Bank will give everybody a loan but I feel like they’ll give us a better opportunity than Bank of America or Wells Fargo.
As well as banking black, what are some things that can be done to strengthen the black dollar?
It’s little things like where I buy my gas from, where I get my groceries from and especially the clothes I wear. I want to support the people who support the same values as I support. I don’t want to buy high-brand clothes from people who are racist or from people who don’t have a care about what goes on in my community. A lot of high-end fashions and businesses in general represent this same type of hatred.
The support you have for black-owned banks is only a part of the work you do in the community. Even when you were with the Swishahouse, you, Michael Watts, Slim Thug and others were going into the schools, talking to the kids, giving free concerts and throwing pizza parties. You’ve been doing this.
There’s a lady named Miss Parker who has an organization called Parents Against Predators. I been real active with here in that for a while. But when Trayvon Martin was killed, it took it to another level.
You also have been sponsoring a local event each year where you give out school supplies and clothes to kids at the beginning of the school year. How long have you been doing that?
I been doing this for a handful of years. We do it every year with Parents Against Predators. It’s a lot of kids out there that don’t have backpacks, that don’t have school supplies or school clothes. It was something I didn’t realize until I had kids. But your kids outgrow those clothes twice a year—once around Christmas and at the beginning of school because they outgrow them. But the old clothes are still good. There are kids out there that need those clothes. As a parent with kids that outgrow clothes, what do I do with all these old clothes? I’m not finna throw them away. So we encourage people to keep their old clothes and we get them and put them in the cleaners and give them to kids who need them. When you don’t have clean clothes to wear, it makes you not want to go to school.
Speaking of your kids, you have a boy and a girl, and I hear that your recently took in your teenaged niece. You seem like a fun dad.
I think I am a good parent. Of course, they always tell me I’m the greatest dad. Being a dad is something I enjoy. It’s something that I’ve been looking forward to my whole life…I am a cool father but like with my niece, I went from being the coolest uncle, the best uncle in the world to being her guardian. It’s different when you’re the cool uncle, but when you’re the parent, you gotta put the rules down and be firm. Then, I ain’t cool no more. I’m the parent that’s getting on your nerves as a teenager.
Have your duties as a parent ever conflicted with your music?
I think the first time it affected my music was when me, Trina and Young Dro did a song with Juicy J called “Let’s Run a Train.” It’s was hard as hell but I just couldn’t put it out because I just had a daughter and there’s no way I could explain to my daughter what it would be cool for anyone to run a train on you. So how can I be out here promoting this and I don’t want my daughter to do it? It’s something that I battled and dealt with.
People may wonder why do you care about these issues so much because you’re not black.
It’s very selfish to say I’m not black so it’s not my problem. A lot of people are saying that, even a lot of black folk. But it is my problem. My children are black. My wife is black. My neighbors are black. My community is black. My fans are black. (He laughs.) I recently got traded.
Not only are your fans black, though. You got white fans, black fans, Hispanic fans and fans from all walks of life.
I have all types of fans, in which I’m sure all artists do. You don’t realize that you have so many types of fans until a racial issue comes up. Then, people come from everywhere to voice their opinions. And I was like “damn, I had no idea I had all these racist fans.” The people following me don’t necessarily believe what I believe so sometimes, it’s like a hindrance. It’s annoying because I’m always arguing with people. But at the same time, it’s an opportunity to teach people who would not have known otherwise because they live in a world of racism. It gives me an opportunity to teach people about the injustices of the world because a lot of people just don’t know. It’s exhausting sometimes, man, when you get into it with random people and all you want to do is help.
Your latest album Slab God and single “Swangin in the Rain” are making a lot of noise. What new music do you have coming out?
The next album The Houston Oiler coming out at the end of August. The Legalizers with Baby Bash and then C. Stone and I am working on the Diamond Boyz coming out later this year.
It seems that screw music isn’t as popular with the younger generation of Houston rappers. Is it as popular as it once was?
There’s a younger generation that’s disconnected from the Screw era but we’re screwed for life in H-town. Houston will always and forever be a screwed up city. But there is a younger generation that feels a little disconnected.
Why do you think they feel that way?
Sometimes people feel like rapping is their destiny or something and feel some sense of entitlement to where they think me, Slim Thug, Z-Ro and Lil Keke are supposed to just come show them the way. And it ain’t that way. When you prove yourself, then we will be welcomed when you make it to our level. It’s like a secret club and when you make it to the club, we are down for each other. We got each other’s backs. So sometimes people may have a chip on their shoulder because they may not have made it into the club. They don’t want to put in the work.
And you have definitely put in your fair share of work.
We been doing this. I been doing this for 20 years. I’m 35; I been doing this before I was 15. Some people can do this for a few months and think that they’re supposed to all of a sudden be in the door. But it don’t work like that. This is a career of us—me, Trae, Z-Ro, Lil Keke. This is our career. We gone be doing this for life.
Even though screw music may not be as big as it once was nationally, many artists who are not even from Texas have adopted much of the screw culture.
A lot of people put screwed up samples in their songs and all of the cultural aspects of screw are still alive and pumping. The syrup is just as big as it ever was. There more slabs on the streets as there ever was. I think when DJ Screw died, a lot of deejays felt like it would be disrespectful to slow music down so a lot of it stopped. But parts of it is bigger than it ever was.