As 2015 came to a close, the waves of Year in Review segments flooded timelines and news feeds to accompany those looking for the first taste in the latest nostalgia. Along with an astounding year for Hip Hop releases, it was a year highlighted by receiving closure in many longstanding uncertainties. The Supreme Court’s benchmark ruling on Marriage Equality. NASA announcing the discovery of water on Mars. A global conference on climate change uniting nearly 200 nations together to combat greenhouse gases. Yet with all of these tremendous moments in our nation’s progression, 2015 continued to evaluate the issues of privilege and prejudice within the lens of the media and the eyes of its’ viewers. With countless tragedies rendering communities to tears coast to coast, the slaughters became sensational, dividing everyone to their factions dependent on their directed fear and anger for these unnecessary deaths. In the hot button topic of police brutality alone, the 1199 lives lost at the hands of the law in the past year amplified the quiet conversations that proved too bold for the politically correct in the form of nasty remarks tattered across multiple social media platforms. While peaceful protests renewed faith in the democratic process, the accompanied commentary defined a person’s integrity. Many were forced to re evaluate friendships through their perspectives while others weighed out the good and bad qualities. This exercise reintroduced the sheer complexities of character within all of us, challenging us to look at what really matters.
Enter in the Southside Minneapolis MC Tall Paul. Standing roughly 6’5” with an unmistakable pony tail falling between his shoulder blades, he is a man of many desirable qualities. He is a youth worker for the Division of Indian Works. He is a proud father. And he is most known as the man behind the inspirational “Prayers in a Song,” where Paul both raps in English and Anishinaabemowin, reconnecting himself to his family’s heritage through Hip Hop. The song has currently clocked in over 275,00 views on Youtube, placement in the Natalie Portman and Chris Eyres executively produced documentary The Seventh Fire and universal acclaim from fans across the board. Yet with all of this fanfare, Tall Paul knew that he needed to give the fans the full picture of himself rather than just one frame with the title track from his new album No Good Good Guy.
“I was kicking it with a co-worker one day,” said Tall Paul, “and there was this new lady that started working at the building we were working at. We started calling her ‘Miss New Booty” after the Bubba Sparxxx song. I walked in the office and said, ‘have you seen Miss New Booty?’ And he said that she was looking fine today and started having that conversation. Then he said, ‘man, we’re no good guys at work talking about this woman, but we’re also good guys cause we’re working with the kids and being good role models.’ Basically, it’s about being human and being imperfect. It goes deeper than that because I have this song, Prayers in a Song, that came out 5 years ago and people started seeing that video and started equating me to being positive rap, but I know I’m more than that. I got my good sides as well as my bad sides and I don’t want to be put on a pedestal to be held to these standards of being a super good guy all because of the image of me from one video. We’re all deeper than that. Nobody is all good and nobody is all bad. I don’t want to be put in a box. I don’t want to sell myself as something that I’m not. If something happens that they don’t like, I’ll be like ‘hey it’s all right here for you.’ I just want to be real with myself and give the people who I am up front.”
In doing so, Tall Paul accomplished just that in the following 11 tracks showcasing his multi-faceted character. Grounded by the varying production of DJ Rube, Berna Beats, Colin Devane, GMO, Mike Frey, 40Deebz and Stomp; Paul lends his sharp tongued raps to find a home among breakers as well as the clubs.Between cypher sessions to critical examinations on social justice, the No Good Good Guy touches on frailties of love, parenthood and maintaining cultural identity within the melting pot. Featuring verses from Manny Phesto, $kywalker, Baby Shel, KnoX and Spotlight Team Deebo, two of the most polarizing songs come by way of the transition between “Gangster Steve” and “No Questions.” Separated by a quirky clip of police officers offering money to a Prius driver, the stark differences between the subjects in these two songs proved to be the most challenging to write.
“No Questions was kind of hard for me to write. I ended up doing some research on both George Stinney and Tamir Rice and paralleled them with the song before that, ‘Gangster Steve,’ which is about a white kid that has a Grandma talking about what a good kid he is and I start rapping about how he was a problem alcoholic. The track ends with a sample of him drunk driving while the cops pay him money and give him props for driving an electric car. It’s kind of sarcastic. So I paralleled it with the traffic stops by kids of color with the double standard of it all.”
Although the issues are sometimes difficult to articulate into rhymes, his creative process has been founded in turmoil as Tall Paul explain that his poetic prowess is largely credited to his six years of sobriety. As referenced within many of No Good Good Guy, drugs and alcohol were once crutches he found throughout his high school and college days that proved to be too much for the Southside spitter to handle.
“After a while, I started getting in trouble. Started going to jail, my son’s mom moved him 5 hours away. I didn’t have a job, didn’t have my own place to live in. I didn’t really have a whole lot of things going on for myself (aside from college). So it came to a point that I was forced to stay sober through probation with getting court cards signed and taking UAs. After I was forced to stay sober, I started liking it and noticed my life starting to improve. That’s also the point that I started rapping because before that, it was only a hobby. I never thought that I would actually do anything with it. So I got sober and I had a lot of free time that I didn’t know what I was going to do with it which I started performing and recording music. Outside of music, I engage in positive activities in order to stay sober.”
In keeping up with that positivity, Tall Paul is doing what he can to give back to the American Indian people of South Minneapolis by working as a youth worker for the Division of Indian Work in the middle of the Phillips and Powederhorn neighborhoods. As part of the SMART Nations program, he along with many other role models help tutor young adults in culturally conscious studies and activities. Although some critics would say that Hip Hop and youth work are two different worlds, Paul has found that his art is a way to engage the kids in a constructive manner.
“One time, Brandon Allday of Big Quarters came over and we had a little workshop for the kids by teaching them how to write a song to Drake’s ‘Started From The Bottom’ beat. We helped them write the song and we helped them record it and mix it down. Sometimes I run some creative writing exercises too. For the most part, I reach them because they all see my videos. So they’re all like ‘it’s Tall Paul’ ‘he’s cool’ so it makes it easier for me to relate to them and talk with them. It might even be easier for them to be open with me because they see this cool dude so they want to be around me.”
Beyond his celebrity, people will be sure to share their own accounts with the MC, but his authenticity as an artist and as a human being will not come into question. As found in his last minute debut, Tall Paul proved to be a shining example of what it means to be a person of integrity in 2015. Someone who is willing to reveal whole self, flaws in all, before a public eager to throw the first stone. While many choose to create a shallow persona to navigate through this world of marred with prejudice, the tenacious character of Tall Paul proves that even in 2016 there are no good guys, only No Good Good Guys. It is up to all of us to acknowledge that goodness and help them along their path towards understanding. As complex as it may seem, just listen and the way maybe simpler than it appears.