The People’s Champ
ver the past few weeks my friends and I have begun one of the freshest debates I’ve been apart of in years: which of the truly great records in pop music history need to be Screwed & Chopped?
Now the capital letters in those last two words and the absurd nature of this discussion point to two very important points: the Houston scene is making a bid for national music permanence in 2005, and they may actually do it. Astral Weeks slowed down to 10 mph crawling speed in the left lane? Van the Man saying “you breathe in, you breathe out” for roughly 21 minutes? What about Joy Division? Ian Curtis telling everyone to dance, dance, dance, to the radio over a bass line so slow and deep it becomes a rock formation? Did I really drink the syrup?
No distinct regional scene has managed to remold the musical scope of popular rap music since Dr. Dre’s languid masterpiece The Chronic. Even then it took Doggystyle and a second platter of effortless Parliament melodies to get past the New York state of mind that had lambasted the west coast as a mere gimmick.
One hypothetical: If Paul Wall had moved one foot towards a national scope at any other time but this summer, he’d be unfairly ignored, laughed and just plain forgotten. It’s a half shame, because as The People’s Champ attests, Wall will work with just about anyone, and more often than not he’ll make a fruitful partner.
Wall takes the backseat on the album opening “I’m A Playa,” letting Three 6 Mafia not only guest but also produce the song’s chorale of street chants, sputtering (and trademark) hi-hats and obese, slithering bass. Two songs later and he’s paired with Philadelphia’s Freeway, trying to get as roughneck as possible over a Swisha-A-Fella swampy horn section. Identity, Wall’s at least, becomes the secondary goal. He’s a sugary slick lyricist, stringing together shout-outs to the past (Pimp C and DJ Screw) and spending the rest of the time focusing on his Cecil Rhodes teeth and parking lot seductions. If you’ve heard his Chick Magnet album (the original home of this album’s “They Don’t Know”), you know what you’re getting yourself into.
The music on The People’s Champ isn’t the typical fare heard on other nimble, singular Swishouse releases. Of course the old Swishahouse production mode—slowing down the drums to accentuate a particular musical loop—holds most of the record down. But there are plenty of concessions to outsiders. “So Many Diamonds” is the same flex-y bassline from “ASAP” (not surprisingly, T.I. is the guest here) but the tempo sluggishly hop scotches over a hanging organ loop. Instead of trying to assimilate bewildered guests into the Houston catacombs, The People’s Camp brings the guest rappers (and there are a bunch) in along with plenty of sonic nods to the visiting MC’s home-town sound. The album becomes hospitality (Screwed & Chopped).
There are only so many ways to use the words “hazy” “drowsy” and “soggy” when talking about The People’s Champ. Sadly, Wall’s personality might fall into those words usually reserved for creeping anthems like the royally filthy “Sittin’ Sideways.” We know Mike Jones is the everyman, Bun-B is the trailblazer, Slim is the lone wolf and of course, Magnificent is about his cash, but what’s Paul Wall’s deal? He’s kind of a push over, leaning a too much on history in parts and failing to make any part of the sound his own. On repeated listens The People’s Champ hits some middle-brow moments: it lacks a force of will and cannibalizes other, more bold Texas aural templates. Nothing too hampering, just a lot of little slips and missed opportunities. Way too much riding antiseptic.
But of course, the birth of this disc could not have been planned better and the music stays sweet, firm and flexible. Everyone is jumping on the H-Town bandwagon and the locals seem none too upset. So with something as light and confectionary as Paul Wall, who are we to refuse the treat?