You and Tobe worked together on “Juice” where you brought back the classic Swishahouse flow. Is there any feature that scared you, going back?
It’s a weird dynamic with other artists ’cause other artists don’t want you telling them what to do. By all means I want to get it right. So I don’t want to come one way and you want me to come another way, nah… let me know. Because I ain’t got no qualms about writing my verse over. My verse for Jill Scott [“So Gone”]? I wrote that verse 20 times over till we got it right! Shit, I would have rewrote it 200 times in my head!
That’s my mama’s favorite artist, my wife’s favorite artist, my auntie’s favorite artist. And they might not be freaky but if they are, they ain’t openly freaky. When I wrote my first verse, I was being super prude in my verse. I’m thinking my mom gon’ hear this and Jill was like, “Nah, we fuckin’ on this song. What you doin’?” I want you to say, “That’s what a diamond chip dick do.” She had to hype me up. Some of my best verses came from being hyped up.
Like “Still Tippin’”?
That was T. Farris! I just signed with the Swishahouse, I’m a solo artist, me and Chamillion had gone our separate ways. In fact, at the time, no label wanted to fuck with me. Nobody. I was seen as a has-been, one-hit wonder with Chamillionaire and that was it. Farris told me, “I fuck with you, I don’t think your best days are behind you. They’re in front of you. I believe in you, bro.” The Swishahouse door was always open, but that was the only door I had open. They gave me a beat CD with eight tracks on it and said, “Do whatever you want.”
“Still Tippin” was the last song on the CD. That beat had the violin going over and I was like, “What, am I supposed to rap Mozart over this?” But I just did what I had to do, ’cause Farris told me, “Freestyle on it like you normally would.” Same happened with “Sittin’ Sidewayz”.
What about “Drive Slow” with Kanye?
It’s crazy, most of the songs in my setlist got a story. I got a crazy experience with “Drive Slow.” The verse I wrote for “Drive Slow” was actually for “Sittin’ Sidewayz.” Originally on “Sittin’ Sidewayz” it was me, Big Pokey and Lil Keke. Atlantic was like, Pokey is independent and unsigned, Keke is independent and unsigned, we’re not putting two independent artists on the record. And that was my first record with Lil Keke, he’s the reason for me even rapping! I’m like, “Do y’all even know who he is? The style I rap with? That’s all him! He created this!” They said, “We’re not doing another label’s job.” So they allowed Pokey to stay, even though it’s Pokey’s hook from his “June 27th” flow. That’s my reverence for Big Pokey, Lil Keke and the Screwed Up Click.
I wrote that verse in my car. I didn’t smoke back then and I have a really overactive mind. Smoking helps me concentrate. Back then? The music would distract me, the beat would distract me, the wallpaper in the studio would distract me. So I’d write in my car. I laid the verse for “Sittin’ Sidewayz,” then they said I had to take one of the people off.
T. Farris came in and said, ‘That verse you wrote is hard as fuck, but it’s too fast for this beat. So write two new verses and flow on the beat a little more.” I was so offended, ’cause I was feeling myself. It’s been like that my whole career, since “N Luv Wit My Money.” I wasn’t expecting that song to live for damn near 20 years but it did. I have my preferential tastes but it doesn’t mean my taste is the most marketable or capture the moment the most because if it were up to me, every song I do would have Pokey or Z-Ro or Slim or Rich The Factor or somebody like that.
Farris had to steer it then?
Yeah, he said, “Whatever you wanna do, I’ma ride with it.” And I had to ask myself, “You don’t even wanna try? This might open up a door for you, you can’t let coach down.” I wrote two new verses and kept them. I didn’t know if I was going to keep those verses and wait for somebody like Kanye or stash them for my next single or what. In fact, I still have the actual paper I wrote the verse on. Plain Pat, he was Kanye’s A&R and he tried to sign me to Def Jam! I for sure would have signed with Def Jam, but L.A. Reid didn’t want me. Pat wanted me. L.A. wanted Chamillionaire but they would end up not getting either of us.
Plain Pat always kept it real with us. Hell, even meeting Kanye was crazy. We met at a KING Magazine photoshoot in 2005. They were highlighting 20 coming Kings—me for grillz, Kanye for beats, Common was there for acting. It was like a private industry mixer, but it was also uptight and industry. Kanye comes in, and you know he was still Kanye. In fact, I was a fan of his lyrics more than his production at the time because at the time his production was higher in treble than bass. I preferred that bass, so at the time, I preferred his lyrics.
He busts out, ‘This supposed to be hip-hop! Ain’t nobody rappin’?!” He just came in freestyling and got the cypher going. Everybody gave him a round of applause and he was like, “Ain’t nobody wanna jump in on the cypher with me?!” I said, “Oh, hold up, ain’t nobody about to talk about my freestyle game, I’m from Houston!”
So I jumped in and then later, we had a side convo. I made him a grill on the spot and when it was ready, he came down because he was doing something with Scarface. He was mixing “Diamonds From Sierra Leone” at Mike Dean’s house. He’d listened to that song 5,000 times, tweak one thing and listen to it in full over and over. That’s how he’s built. Plain Pat told me, “Hey, Kanye told me you been fuckin’ with it. He got this song and you know he picky. Don’t be a mad rapper if he don’t use it!” I knew what that opportunity meant so I told him, “Yeah, send me that ho! This is perfect for my verse from ‘Sittin’ Sidewayz!’”
Kanye’s tricky about verses, like you have to record it in the studio with him.
So with “Drive Slow,” me and Gu (Paul’s manager) flew to LA and we were stopped by two detectives at baggage claim. I said, “Aww hell, we gettin’ Punk’d.” Mike Jones just got Punk’d. You know it’s like tag, Kanye get Punk’d, Mike Jones get Punk’d, I get Punk’d. And I’m talkin’ back to the cop cause I’m thinking we getting Punk’d and Gu is like, “Man, I don’t think we’re getting Punk’d. Them badges look real!” That cop could have easily taken us to jail and I was being disrespectful. I’m all for freedom of speech but I know what people are capable of.
They let us go! We go to the hotel, then go to the studio session and before we even get there, we got pulled over in front of the studio. Driver made an illegal turn and the cop flashed his lights. I said, “Fuck! This mean I’m not about to be on Kanye album?!” Thankfully the cop let me out and I told him, “Hey, the studio is right there, am I good? Wait, where is Ashton Kutcher at?” [Ed. note: Paul Wall would record his verse with Kanye that night, but wasn’t sure if it would make the final cut for the album.]
[Later that year] DJ Drama called me ’cause he was at a listening session for [Late Registration] and said, “You on Kanye album?!” When Drama tells you that you killed it, you know you killed it. Then Hype directed the video and hell, Kanye let me put it on my album! That’s unheard of. Def Jam thankfully let that one go, didn’t charge no label fees or clearance fees for that either.