- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Paul Wall, “Heart of a Champion” (SwishaHouse/Asylum)

The latest album from Paul Wall, Houston’s king of grills (teeth, not BBQ hardware), is a true-to-the-streets attempt at remaining relevant in the mercurial world of rap. The self-proclaimed “people’s champ” weighs in well with “Heart of a Champion,” with a rogue’s gallery of featured artists lending a hand on most tracks.

“Heart of a Champion” is Wall’s fourth major label release. Half of the album was produced by Travis Barker, the genre-blending drummer for Blink-182. Edgy guest appearances by Jim Jones, Chamillionaire and Slim Thug pair well with Wall, who can come off a little too safe at times.

There are a moments on the album where Wall appears to be simply dabbling with the latest fads in hip-hop production. The best of Wall happens early on the album, as he raps on “Showin’ Skillz” over a slow and chopped up beat. “Attempted murder is the charge when they see how I strut/ ‘Cause I’m killing the competition when the trunk raise up,” Wall raps about besting the adversaries on the mic.

Despite some low points, the album feels like a complete work. Wall mostly raps about dismissing detractors and pursuing financial success. That’s all well-covered fodder in the hip-hop game, but Wall raps it like he means it.

CHECK THIS TRACK OUT: “Live It” provides the best flow on the album, and features up-and-comer Yelawolf. The so-called “Dirty South” sound is being redefined by new talents such as this Alabama-based rapper, who is quickly making a name for himself with slick guest shots and raucous live shows. Wall did well to tap his talent.

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