Paul Wall 

The People's Champ (Swishahouse)

Three Houston veterans -- Mike Jones, Slim Thug and Paul Wall -- helped Texas slowly invade the rap world in 2005. But Mike Jones dropped the ball with a platinum-selling (but notoriously redundant) CD, and Slim Thug's album, though one of the best of the year, lost its Texan shine and didn't sell. Thankfully, Paul Wall's debut actually nails the Houston sound with its raps about codeine and cars, screwed and chopped hooks and a cameo from Texas legend Bun B. In a goofy, smooth drawl, Wall spits modular rap, flipping a long, versatile vocabulary of catchphrases into variations on a theme. (In fact, he has a good hundred ways to describe his diamond-encrusted grill, the best being "the disco ball in [his] mouth.") He also goes to Philly to hook up with Freeway ("State to State"), heads over to Memphis to collaborate with Three 6 Mafia ("I'm a Playa") and even scoops hos online ("Internet Goin Nuts"). But Wall's continuous name-dropping of his manager, his label and his collaborators -- and no shortage of appearances from Texans such as Big Pokey, Archie Lee and Aqualeo -- keeps the focus in the Lone Star state.

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