On eighth album Slab God, Paul Wall stands and delivers as a still hard-hitting Houston emcee demanding to claim relevance not as a legend who opened doors, but as a potent poet still slanging bars, sipping lean, sitting on slabs and keeping it trill.
Bringing up RiFF RaFF feels sensible when one hears album track “Run a Check Up” and Paul Wall is talking about “paying $100 for some condoms made of dolphin skin,” which is a line that’s definitely consistent with the stream of consciousness nonsense associated with the heavily tattooed hip-hop charlatan. However, it’s in the legitimacy of Wall’s background where this album is best regarded. Other ultra-legit rap OGs are here as Devin the Dude, Curren$y, Trae tha Truth and Snoop Dogg are all present and accounted for. To get these four emcees to appear on an independent album that lacks major label distribution makes this different from RiFF RaFF in these sense that it’s more motivated by the love than by the expectation of a massive check. Just as Paul says on Devin and Curren$y featuring “Crumble the Satellite,” “you can buy real shit, but you can’t buy real.”
“The hoes come and go [and] the cars come and go” says Paul Wall on “Forever Hustle,” the collaboration with Ampichino which as a song likely does more to explain how Paul Wall can be GRAMMY’s Texas Chapter President while at the same time also be conversant in driving around with his “Top Diine” while drinking “Muddy Cups on Sunset” and doing things like asking for the release from jail of legendary underground Houston emcee and fellow Color Changing Click member 50/50 Twin. What shines through about Wall on this 17-track album is just how simple he keeps his hustle at the core. He’s a talented rhymer who’s earned his keep and owns all of the items that his wealth has allowed him to purchase. It’s Wall’s ability to discuss humble dreams in ostentatious terms that keeps Slab God from ever feeling longer than it appears, and for a lesser emcee, would most certainly be.
Production-wise, this album approaches what one would expect of a classic and soulful Houston rap album, however modern Atlanta trap elements and some more surprising moments appear, too. Snoop Dogg-aided pimp anthem “Chose Me” borrows its hook from a famous scene between Goldie and Pretty Tony in 1972 blaxploitation film The Mack, and the heavy dub bassline at first provides a definite shock to the track’s bottom end, but then, as the track’s subject matter and the performances of the veteran emcees sinks in, the ensemble parts make for a truly entertaining whole. “R.I.P Act” is a heart-broken trap anthem dedicated to a fallen homie, the sample of Lisa Fischer’s 1991 hit single “How Can I Ease The Pain” making all of the sense in the world here and elevating the level of excellence of the production.
However, for those moments where production excels, there are tracks like Migos-esque piano-led trapper “Checklist” and Young Thug-style hook-featuring “Run a Check Up” that feature modern pop antics that somehow feel beneath the level of quality displayed on the rest of the release. Making concessions to pop ears was a musical necessity when Paul Wall was signed to a major label and was nominated for a Grammy with Nelly for 2007’s “Grillz.” However it’s now 2015, and in “adjusted for 2015” numbers, the 500,000 copies that Nelly’s album Sweatsuit (on which “Griilz” is featured) sold would likely number as 50,000 or fewer. Thus, the move of releasing tracks that feel as though they’re featuring flows and productions styles that placate a modern pop marketplace likely not checking for that sound from Paul Wall feels superfluous.
For Paul Wall’s eighth studio album, the goal officially feels as though Wall’s more aiming at releasing albums that aid his brand as a “legendary Houston rapper who’s still cashing checks and staying on his grind” than a “rapper making a carefully calculated aim for the top of the Billboard charts.” In being a project that is much less of Wall making hits and much more about Wall having fun, it’s excellent. In not aiming too high and potentially losing his fanbase, but not aiming too low and falling short of expectations, Slab God is a comfortable listen to a legend who’s oftentimes still at his best.