Paul Wall – Fast Life [Review]

I’m going to get it out the way and say that I like Paul Wall. The first time I heard his metaphor laden, laid back voice on “Still Tippin’”; something struck me about him as an artist and a person. In a day and age where so many rappers have property on 9th and Front Street, Wall looks to be unaffected by his celebrity or bank statement, an everyman with a matter of fact style of flow. It’s hard NOT to be able to at least accept that.

What I’m getting at is that what you see with Paul is what you get. Honestly, it’s a nice change of pace. He’s a white rapper who’s not compared to Eminem and at least is up front with the subject matter he wants to talk about. There’s not an air about him where’s he’s trying to be more to the rap game then what he is. Despite his flaws [major metaphor recycling, a flow too lazy for his own good at times]; Paul Wall may be one of the most accessible rappers in the game with his lyrical yarns about hustling, drink, women, and posting up.

Often, Wall is jabbed at for being TOO simplistic, with no real meat to his flows. He’s been guilty as charged in various outings, but he has shown glimpses of surprising storytelling matched with an earnest sense of self and humor. Which one he plans to bring to the table is anyone’s guess and it’s that inconsistency that has held him back from time to time.

The People’s Champ was a solid major debut for the Houston native, whereas Get Money, Stay True had it’s share of stumbles in regards to repetition and general lack of energy; despite it being another solid outing. So after a brief hiatus, a trend I noticed among a lot of Swishahouse representers, and some features; Paul Wall is back with Fast Life. Much like Mike Jones, Paul made sure to note in interviews that he hopes to display a mature flow and sound with his 3rd studio album. With Mike Jones failing to live up to those expectations, is Paul Wall set to have the same problem as his contemporary? Or can he evolve and rise to a polished follow-up like another contemporary of his, Slim Thug.

I’ve got the answers to these concerns and more. So like paper, let’s get it.

1. I Need Mo
Featuring Kobe; Produced by Travis Barker
Who knew Travis Barker was going to be such a natural fit for Hip-Hop production and remixes? Welcome to Hip-Hop Travis. Keep up the originality, we need it.

This is an intense, piano and guitar driven beat that opens up the album as Paul spits about how focused he is on his hustle. He shows more fire than his usual flow and brings the metaphors for what I’d consider a solid intro to the album. Kobe is easily interchangeable with a number of upstart Auto-tuned hookmen, but doesn’t detract from this driven album opener. Thumbs up and gets things rolling on a proper note.

2. Got To Get It
Featuring Fat Pat; Produced by Beanz & Kornbread
The best track on the album, hands down. It’s really THAT good.

A hustler anthem if I’ve ever heard one. Beanz & Kornbread are to be commended for marrying West Coast synth with that slow Texas flavor of production. Fat Pat provides a hot hook, screwed and chopped of course, and Paul Wall’s laid back delivery hugs the curves on this number.

I’ve listened to this track over and over again and am simply amazed at how well it came together. This is Paul Wall making good on the maturity of his sound with great style. Place this not only as THE album standout, but among one of his best at that.

3. Bizzy Body
Featuring Webbie & Mouse; Produced by Mouse
Painfully uneven, especially coming off of two winners for tracks. This one is about females with their own hustles by any means, detailed in raw form by the three on the track.

The beat works, but lacks the quality to really make it stand out among the 5 million other “dip it low” tracks out. Webbie’s verse doesn’t really click, almost losing the beat once or twice. Mouse has a fun verse to bookend this track, giving his best Juvenile tribute with his style and voice. Paul actually handles his portion well and again shows an assurance and a delivery way ahead of his previous two studios. Catch his clever line about a girl on her knees, but not to pray. Average track that had more potential.

4. Lemon Drop
Featuring Baby Bash
This one is an obvious slide in for the ladies. The beat is okay, sounding like a Lil’ Jon synth leftover that he sold at cut rate [Probably to pay for Crunk Rock. One day…one day…]. Baby Bash and Paul Wall actually don’t make for a bad combination, given they both share a laid back approach to their deliveries. Just wish they had a better track to showcase the chemistry.

The hook for this one is laughably bad I must say though. Paul Wall sounds like a damn idiot going “POP” over and over some forgettable backup vocals on the hook. I was hoping for more, because this very well could have been an enjoyable dance number. Instead, it finds itself the first REAL stumble of the album.

5. Fly
Featuring Yung Joc & Gorilla Zoe; Produced by Amadeus
A perfect example of the sum being greater than the parts. I didn’t go into the track expecting much, but everyone drops fun verses to compliment the [now commonplace] screwed and chopped hooked beat. It sounds like something Joc himself would have on his album, but it’s a solid addition to Fast Life and a fun romp for all parties involved. Inoffensive. An easy track to bounce around to while cruising.

6. I Grind
Featuring Marty James of One Block Radius
Paul Wall calls in a 3rd of West Coast hip-hop trio One Block Radius for backup vocals on another piece of grinder’s inspiration. James’ voice has a quality like Adam Levine’s, just enough emotion and smooth all the way through. Paul’s flow is by the number, so that doesn’t mean bad, but I wish he turned in a stronger effort to really lift this track to the next level. The beat was well made, not overdone but made with a sense of urgency the likes of which a hustler has for his money. Good track. Could have competed with “Got To Get It” had Wall threw down harder on this.

7. Daddy Wasn’t Home (Mama Raised Me)
Produced by Beanz & Kornbread
I’m going on record and saying the best-kept secret of this album is Beanz & Kornbread. Another winner of a beat using a well placed “Dear Mama” Tupac sample, Paul Wall relates about growing up and the struggles his mother went through. He even speaks on his stepfather and how good of a husband and father he ended up becoming to his family. This is the kind of sincerity and earnest flow that sets Paul apart from so many others. His words feel real and the beat is a hook for your continued listening of his story. Excellent track and Paul Wall’s evolution into a stronger rapper continues.

8. Pop One of These
Featuring Too Short, Skinhead Rob, & The Federation; Produced by Travis Barker
Risks. I love risks and stepping outside the box. This could have turned out so bad and fortunately, it did not. Paul Wall takes his hand at hyphy and doesn’t make a fool of himself. He speeds up his flow for this and gets aid from hyphy vets, The Federation. Too Short is Too Short, and yes he drops his signature “BEEYATCH” in there(!). Barker laces a fun little dance track here and what we get is a surprisingly good taste of Texas mashed with West Coast. Another left field piece of enjoyment on this CD.

9. One Hundred
Featuring Z-Ro & Yung Redd; Produced by Howard “Chaotic” Metoyer & X-Fyle
Paul Wall’s vow to stay true his boys, up or down, opens this track as it takes a moment for the beat to really get going. Once it does, you’re treated to a space age synth produced by Chaotic and X-Fyle. I’m a fan of Z-Ro, but the hook for this song is wordy and clashes with the overall cool of this track. Fortunately his verse is much better. Yung Redd breezes through this, but lacks anything truly memorable about his verse. This track goes by pretty fast and is another case of the song not being bad; just needing a bit more to carry it to banger status.

I do have issue that the song was mostly handled by the features, but I think different artists or perhaps more Paul may have beefed this track up lyrically. Worth a listen, albeit lacking.

10. Pressin’ Them Buttons
Featuring Lil’ Keke & Trae; Produced by I.N.F.O. & NOVA
Classic Texas style on display. Money, cars, and jewelry are the subjects of the day on this track. The beat is snare, horns, and raw drums and is another made for cutting corners in a clean whip. I love how this comes on hard and won’t let up until it finally goes off. Keke and Trae are used to this kind of style and add to the general vibe of the track. Definite head-nodder and I’d suggest bumping this hard while recreating the riding scenes from “Throw Some D’s”. Even Paul’s usual subjects are heightened by improved production and a more assured style.

11. I’m Clean
Featuring Z-Ro; Produced by Beanz & Kornbread
3 for 3 for Beanz & Kornbread in the beat department; this is the weakest of their trinity on this album however. I could imagine UGK completely destroying this beat, but Paul and Z-Ro team up to make a pretty good track here.

Z-Ro definitely improves upon the weaker showing he had on “One Hundred” with a better verse and hook. Paul slips back into the cool demeanor reminiscent of tracks like “So Many Diamonds” from People’s Champ and it definitely works here. If you ride to this song, no speeds over 25 MPH please. This is textbook Texas style boasting here. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s nothing terribly deep, just enjoyable. A keeper and couldn’t imagine him staying true to the region’s sound without a track like this.

12. Sumn’ Like a Pimp
Featuring Tech N9ne & Krizz Kaliko; Produced by Howard “Chaotic” Metoyer & X-Fyle
Another left field collaboration here and yet again, it strangely gels. The beat is ominous and a tad creepy. Even the hook leads you in to a false sense of security before turning harsh with the gritty “Who da fuck you be bitch, you know me”. This is my first introduction to Krizz Kaliko and he holds his own in the company on this track to help tailor an almost warped version of the slowed Texas style. It’s what you know, but tweaked just enough to create a unique flow lyrically and sound wise. Another risk with a surprising reward.

13. Look At Me Now
Featuring Yung Chill; Produced by Yung Chill
As hard as the album started, the album closes on an opposite note. Calm, reflective, and assured of what he has become and what he is now. Yung Chill delivers a beat worthy of sending this album out on a high note as Paul candidly relates his lows to the high he now ascended to. I never could have imagined he’d have the skill to craft this track a few years ago and I’m almost made he wasn’t this good sooner. Excellent closing.

Bottom Line:

Just wow.

This album is not a classic or a 4 star affair. But wow, Paul Wall definitely has came up from the guy who kept saying he was posted up on something every 2 lines. I read interviews of rappers constantly saying they’re going to improve their style, change it, or shock people as albums get closer to release and drop the same old bullshit over and over. Paul has done all three listed and in the process, taken some major steps up in regards to stepping up to figurehead status for Texas.

He could have easily went by the numbers, but Paul took his share of risks and changes and has produced some of his best work since his 2005 studio debut. His style isn’t compromised for his longtime fans, but it’s accessible and showing more depth than ever before. He does have weak tracks that fail to capitalize on their full potential like the misguided “Lemon Drop” and “Bizzy Body”, a misfire of features and production. However, Fast Life bounces back with earnest tracks like “Look At Me Now” and “Daddy Wasn’t Home”; Texas staples like “I’m Clean” and “Pressin’ Them Buttons”; and sheer shockers like “Pop One of These” and “Sumn’ Like a Pimp”. Lest we forget the height of Paul’s grown style in “Got To Get It”, I’m still in disbelief that it’s the same artist.

And that’s a good thing. Disbelief. Shock. Enjoyment. I love knowing an artist can completely take what I know of him and turn it upside down, while still making it worth the listen. Paul Wall has grouped unknowns and unproven producers and artists to create a CD with its share of surprises, but familiar enough not to alienate the sound you know and love. This album won’t be his 4 star…but if he keeps on this track, he may have another surprise just yet for hip-hop on the horizon.

I know that sounds hard to believe, but that’s a shock I’d love to see. Since when has it ever been bad that an artist wants to improve? Change ain’t just for Sam Cooke you know?

nappyPicks: “Got To Get It”, “Pressin’ Them Buttons”, “Daddy Wasn’t Home”, “Look At Me Now”, “I’m Clean”