But Paul Wall, 27-year-old rap icon and ugliest man in the game (word to his scrunched-up, diamond-stuffed grimace), is a fat, squinty-eyed baller.
The more he talks, the more you realize he's not talking black, per se. The slow drawl is pure Houston. He talks how he's always talked. And when he smiles one of his two smiles -- slow and sly, or the big, obnoxious dentist presentation -- tens of thousands of gemstone dollars speak volumes. Those are grills, baby, and they got Paul Wall "lookin' somethin' like a disco ball."
This guy is getting it, all right. And you haven't even seen his cars.
Paul Wall -- "Pow Wow" in Houstonese -- burst onto the national scene in 2005 with fellow Houston rappers Mike Jones, Slim Thug and Chamillionaire, effectively introducing the rest of America to Houston car culture.
Chevys from the '60s and Buicks from the '80s, uniformly drenched in metallic paint, outfitted with spoke rims that come to points and poke out the sides, finished with wood-grain steering wheels, and populated by shamelessly self-promoting entrepreneurs who all happened to rap: It was Americana most of America didn't know about.
When he's on, he raps clever and pimps Houston like a true used-car salesman. Tapping a deep well of Southern charisma and regional slang, he makes a non-issue of his awesome ugliness, obscuring it with cleverness and humor, then emphasizes it by way of exclamatory gaudiness: the mouth full of diamonds, the watch that costs more than his boat-sized, candy-paint slab [car]. He's an everyman baller, a perfect storm of dazzle, flash, grit and grind with a hypnotic, promethazine chaser.
Paul Wall's best rhymes, particularly those on fabled, early albums with Chamillionaire (as the Color Changin' Click), are hilariously one-track. He raps about cars like Clipse raps about crack: more similes, metaphors and ultra-specific brags than any other MC, ever. Lines like, "I'm thinkin paint that change every time you blink / My rims are 23's, so they old enough to drink," come one after another, big-time clever about small-time topics.
Paul Wall's crowning moment was when Kanye West put him on "Drive Slow" off Ye's sophomore album, Late Registration. West, arguably the best hip-hop artist out, acknowledging Paul as a master in his own right felt right: Kanye is a million times more artistic and fashionable in the worldly sense, but no matter how you slice it, Paul Wall is the best at what he does.
His obvious ugliness is no impediment to his lady killing. His glaring whiteness plays no part in deciding his bought-and-paid-for rap credibility. Paul Wall is proof that glamour (or at least glitz) speaks louder than looks, and that hip-hop is its own ethnicity.
Paul Wall with Tech N9ne and Ill Bill at Big Easy on Tuesday-Wednesday, April 1-2, at 8 pm. $32. April 1 is sold out. Tickets remain for April 2. Visit ticketswest.com or call 325-SEAT.