Is Paul Wall Good For America? -- by General Baker, August 2006
It always works: if you have never heard a Paul Wall song, you will assume when you first hear one that the rapper with the country grammar thicker than molasses and a delivery evenly paced and fluid in signature Texas fashion, is black.
When I first had the opportunity to hear Paul Wall one year ago, I was flipping through the channels and randomly landed on MTV2 which happened to be featuring his video collaboration “Still Tippin’” with Slim Thug and Mike Jones. I was initially seized by the beat, one quite atypical with Southern and Midwestern listeners and was more akin to something Prince Paul, a NY-based producer, might concoct. It wasn’t Crunk, a downtempo, hypnotic, and trancey version of hip-hop pioneered by Lil’ Jon oft confused as the totality of the South. The beat was a simplistic 808-drum feel with a looped symphony string that never changed, only dropped out here and there.
And there he was on the television; not Vanilla Ice, not Serch, not Everlast, Eminem, nor Miilkbone, but a “thugged” out white boy with a down South flow. My mind was racing because, while Eminem is an incredible lyricist and storyteller with sales that far outnumber Paul Wall, and while there are so many political conclusions to draw out of Eminem’s music, here was this white rapper, who under normal circumstances would have been dismissed as a wannabe, who sounded completely and utterly relevant and germane.
I had what I thought was a glimpse of the future; I knew, for a moment, what was to come. Because I was so taken by this phenomenon and because I thought he was different enough, but not too different, and enough time had elapsed since a white rapper had attempted to win over the hearts and minds of black listeners, that others would be taken by it too.
And it was just as I had imagined; no one cared that he was white…ok, no black folks cared. When his first solo single, “Sittin’ Sidewayz”, dropped last summer, I was working in a factory burning lead posts onto oxide-laden plates used to power industrial-sized batteries. Whenever Paul Wall began blasting underneath the sound of torches on the radio I would notice all of the black folks on the line nodding their heads. It was like they didn’t even know. I guess I sort of expected the typical response to white rappers. It was not long after that Paul Wall was touring through Kansas City and some of the black workers wanted to go see him. When I witnessed these reactions, I knew that some critical thinking needed to happen and had been happening.
A TREASON TO WHITENESS
For whites, however, it was painfully obvious; he was a “wigger”. He was a race traitor and it made them very uncomfortable, the same way any discussion of race does, which is why Paul Wall, not completely in-and-of himself, is totally revolutionary.
My friend Rob mentioned that if he was to write an article on Paul Wall he would begin with something similar to the lead, “Paul Wall is revolutionary, not a revolutionary.” A solid lead, and he is partially right. But while he may not be an overtly political rapper, he is, culturally speaking, thoroughly political. Paul Wall is indeed revolutionary because of the fact that, one, he is a viable white rapper who just five years ago would have been dismissed as a “wannabe” and, two, who retains a huge multiracial fan base. All this indicates that there has been a real shift in the thinking and consciousness of regular people towards race and rap.
The reasons he is a revolutionary is because of his treason to whiteness; by his rejection, at least so much as he is individually capable, of some of the social privileges associated with white skin. That is enough to make David Duke and other right-wing ideologues want to puke, and that is exactly why Paul Wall is good for America.
OH, YOU'LL NEVER BE THAT BLACK.
There isn’t much which separates him from most other down South rappers. Candy paint, wood-grain steering wheels, “swangaz,” a Houstonite term for rims, and iced-out grills all find an important home in Paul Wall’s vernacular…and all find themselves being cannon fodder to be used against him by strident conservative backpackers and countercultural hip-hoppers. They unfortunately focus on the limitations that necessarily are a part of a spontaneous—that is, not completely conscious—icon like Paul Wall.
Before the nationally-syndicated Steve Harvey Show replaced it, there was, in Kansas City, a morning show called the Breakfast Jam with hosts Julie Jonez and Sean Tyler. One morning Tyler joked to Jonez, in a particularly funny scenario, that he would become blacker than Paul Wall. Jonez replied, “Oh, you’ll never be that black.”
In order to appreciate Paul Wall’s significance, it is important to situate him historically. At the backdrop of this Houston rapper is, just recently, a reality TV show which has aired on FX (and has been cleaning up the ratings) called “Black.White.” The plot is that a well-to-do white family and a middleclass black family live together under one roof and swap skin colors. Each member of the family are placed in particular situations where race is central: the purchasing of a home or car, applying for a job, participating in social circles, etc.
There are so many reasons why this show is revolutionary as well. It reflects the continuing discourse, or lack thereof, taking place in the mind of the American people on race issues. It, on the one hand, is a historical product of this discourse or non-discourse, and on the other hand, it is forcing folks to think critically about the edifice of racism.
ECONOMIC AND INSTITUTIONAL BASIS FOR RACISM
The death of Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King signals the victories made by movements of people towards civil rights and racial equity, but simultaneously suggests the mileage yet to go.
While the economic and institutional basis for racism still exists, the social basis for it is eroding. Whiteness as such is being redefined. There is a post-Civil Rights redefinition concerning de facto segregation which has been perpetuated by section 235 of the Federal Housing Act. Real insight into this policy has lent itself to the dismissal that people simply choose where to live, that there is an operative structure behind racism and behind the backs of those who believe racism no longer exists, as Bruno, the white turned black father character on Black.White., believes.
But there is also a redefinition of whiteness happening socially and psychologically within the minds of American people. Paul Wall, Black.White., etc. is a testament to this internal discourse. While Paul Wall is easily dismissed by underground hip-hop heads, white media liberals and conservatives, etc., his records sales, like the ratings of Black.White. indicate that the haters are a marginal force and that society, white and black, is ready to charge forward and Paul Wall’s face will emblazon the flag of racial unity.
Paul Wall not only made the white rapper's job easier, but he has served as a historical point which is ushering in a new phase in modern society…or at least an opportunity to do so. Thanks, brother!