After the Southern party magic of The Peoples Champ had worn off, it had been a slow five-year slide for crunk thug Paul Wall, and when you’re that far down the hip-hop hole, hiring Travis Barker, drummer of blink-182, to produce half your album just doesn’t seem sensible. Going the return-to-form route often works but Wall uses the throwback method sparingly on The Heart of a Champion, an album piled high with risky decisions that add up to an unexpected success. Riskiest of them all has to be inviting respected wordsmiths Raekwon and Jay Electronica on board, and on the same cut, but the usually serviceable Wall has proven he can turn it on when it counts, and does so with “I’m gettin’ paper while you in the shade drinkin’ Zima/I’m a schemer, you just waitin’ for your check from FEMA” during the massive “Live It.” Features play a huge role in the album’s success, with Bun B and Kid Sister ensuring “Im’ma Get It” is a win while Devin the Dude and Z-Ro help turn “Smoke Everyday” into a grand stoner anthem. The man’s fine on his own, too, with “Take Notes” and “I’m on Patron” both placing in the album’s top five plus the two cuts credited to his supergroup Expensive Taste -- Wall, Barker, and Skinhead Rob from Transplants -- avoid the usual rap-rock clichés. Barker’s productions aren’t as showy as you might expect, acting as true support with some interesting ideas, and the rest of the tracks are well handled by the returning Dirty South crew Beanz & Kornbread, giving the album a proper mix of new and old. You wouldn’t think the man had so many aces up those short sleeves, but one listen to The Heart of a Champion and haters will have to rethink their arguments.
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AllMusic Review by David Jeffries
feat: Yung Chill