A chunky subgenre founded under the influence of cough syrup and Jolly Ranchers, Houston’s chopped and screwed sound enjoyed a brief period where its remixes sounded like a promising avenue for rap, dropping the Southern tradition of fast and loose beats for ones approaching suspended animation. But in the long term, its aesthetic proved amazingly thin, with most of its purveyors either falling creatively fallow (Mike Jones, Chamillionaire) or dying from codeine abuse (DJ Screw, Pimp C).
A lethargic slog that half-heartedly hangs on to many of the scene’s precepts, Paul Wall’s Heart of a Champion feels like a misguided departure and a lazy retread, and is certainly crappy enough to mutually encompass both these things. It’s clear from the opening of “Imma Get It,” which almost immediately declares Wall “the codeine boss” beneath an assaulting crunk-lite beat, that this is destined to be an exercise in wheel spinning. The repetition is so insistent that on the Swishahouse records online player, where I previewed the album and each song played on a loop, it was often hard to tell when a track had ended and began again.
The combination of Travis Barker, who’s shown an aficionado’s interest in hip-hop but no real skill in producing it, and Wall, who in weaker moments has the clumsy flow of a tranquilized bear, is indicative of the amateurism on display here. Barker produced a good chunk of the album, and it’s telling that his rudimentary beats are probably the best on the album, going up against equally facile creations from uninspired newcomers Beanz N Kornbread. Their “My City” is soggy, warmed-up crunk that sounds pulled from a 2003 time capsule. Wall doesn’t help either, identifying the unique points of Houston as drug sales (“more snow than Minnesota”), a love for money (“running for paper like Reggie Bush”), and the fact that he lives there.
There’s a temptation when reviewing this kind of lyrical eyesore to endlessly quote offending passages, but there’s enough criminal material in opener “Take Notes,” an instructional manner in high living, to make that exhausting. To wit: Wall is “flyer than a mosquito” and “as fly as a flock of doves,” he boasts about his Levis in the same breath as flogging his expensive taste, and refers haters to www.kissmyass.com. The triviality of all this becomes comes into even greater focus on serious tracks like “Codeine,” which scraps the purple drank worship for a cheesy take on Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” or the Katrina-referencing “Live It,” which pulls doomed guest stars like Raekwon and Yelawolf into the mix.
These admissions of a world outside over-the-counter drugs and expensive pants make the celebration of those things seem all the more ridiculous, akin to someone bragging about sniffing glue. And though it’s hard to imagine a drearier song than “I’m on Patron,” a mindless romp where Wall waxes eloquent about how much tequila he’s been drinking, that’s the meter of these songs, which pick easy topics and then make them seem more trite than might have been possible. This kind of treatment quickly becomes Heart of a Champion‘s raison d’être, wringing numbing banality out of the most familiar of subjects.