Tall Paul on the Cold Flows for Warm Clothes benefit
Those of us fortunate enough to enjoy the snowy holiday season from the warmth of our windowsills don't often think about how the same climate can turn deadly in a heartbeat for the homeless. Local rapper Tall Paul knows how brutal those conditions can be. Growing up in South Minneapolis and working at a "wet house" for folks with substance abuse problems, he was forced to meet the harsh realities of life on the streets on a daily basis. With the help of other compassionate members of the Twin Cites' artistic and nonprofit communities, Tall Paul and his team created Cold Flows for Warm Clothes, an annual benefit concert for youth programs at Little Earth of United Tribes, a Native-run housing complex.
To help raise money and clothing donations for a community near and dear to his heart, the rapper set up another stellar bill this year, featuring friends and colleagues in the local scene including Greg Grease, Haphduzn, Big Quarters, Meta, MaLLy and Toki Wright. We talked to Tall Paul about his inspiration for the event, as well as his recent run-in with Dave Chappelle.
Gimme Noise: Tell us a little about your origin story. When do you hail from? When did you start rapping?
Tall Paul: I'm from South Minneapolis, pretty much lived here my whole life. Bounced around the state a little bit in my early teens and stuff, but pretty much my whole life. I started writing my first raps when I was 14, watching BET Freestyle Fridays on 106 & Park. I didn't record my first song until I was 20 or 21, but pretty much from 14 up until that point it was just something I did as a hobby or leisure. In December 2008-January 2009 I actually recorded my first song and started performing in early 2009.
Did you have any mentors or folks who you'd like to credit for inspiring your growth as a rapper?
Some people that really helped me out was Big Quarters -- Brandon and Zach Bagaason. Back in 2009 I heard they had some type of hip-hop workshop or something so basically I just went to check it out. I got to record for free and watch 'em while they mixed it, and learned little tips and pointers about it. Being brand new to all of that, it was really helpful. They were a big part of that mentorship aspect at Hope Community Center.
A fair amount of your rhymes seem tied to your life experience as an Indigenous man, would you mind talking about that a little?
Yeah, I mean, people try to put this whole "Native Hip-Hop" label on you or something, but I just did it naturally. Giving a fact that it's a big part of my identity and who I am, it's just naturally something I would write about being the type of rapper that I am; I kinda talk about my personal life and things like that. I don't feel like I have to right about that stuff, and I don't feel like I do it for anybody else, but me. I just write about those kind of things to express myself. But some people will be like "Oh... a Native American rapper...you should write about this...," you know, something all super-Native or whatever. It's just basically something I do, I don't do it all the time, and I just try to refrain from getting too deep into that because I don't want to be labeled, I'm more or less just a rapper who happens to be Native. I've never self-proclaimed myself to be "Native Hip-Hop," it's just something that people have applied to me.
It's a great perspective to bring, because to me, your lyrics and flow are 100 percent classic southside rap shit. Reminds me of I Self, Musab or Big Wiz. Who did you listen to when you were coming up?
I listened to whatever my cousins and brothers were listening to, I myself never really explored it too much, I just listened to what was around. Snoop, Biggie, DMX, Twista, Bone Thugs, a lot of them.
Your video for "Prayers in a Song" really seemed to catch on. It's a great snapshot of your life in Minneapolis. What was working on that like? Were you surprised by the response?
It was this dude Finn Ryan, he works with the Wisconsin Media Lab. They just hit me up, they told me that they were going to shoot a video for me for free as long as they could use it for public schools as an education tool. That was part of the reason I wrote the song, so I agreed. So yeah, they did the video and it turned out dope. I think we shot that in April of 2012, and they didn't drop it until October of last year.
I think that song just catches on with a lot of people, because I suppose there ain't a lot of Native rappers who rap in their native tongue. I don't think I've ever heard anyone rap in Ojibwe prior to that. It's also like, the English lyrics and my stories, people seem to resonate with that, people identify with what I was talking about in the song. Somebody posted it on Reddit and it just blew up, it went from like to 5000 views to like 220k or whatever it's at now. I've actually got this song called "April Fools" where I talk about that "Prayers in a Song" joint, and some of the misconceptions and criticisms I've gotten for it.
People get these misconceptions about me, where they assume I'm a fluent speaker of the language and all of that, just because of that song. People judged me for doing the song, and I just kind of responded to some of those criticisms in the song, and let them know I'm not a fluent speaker and told 'em more more about why I wrote the song. I actually want to shoot a video to that as a response to the first video for "Prayers in a Song."
You've got a couple of releases out right now, could you talk about those?
Ahead of the Game was really more of a series than it was actually a mixtape, I just dropped a song a week for the whole football season. I just got the idea that I was gonna release a song a week every time the Vikings play, just before kickoff. Then The Birthday Present joint, I got that idea less than a month before my birthday, I wanted to release a little project on my birthday, and it evolved around the concept of being happy to be alive, and treat every day like it's a birthday.