Slim Thug is pretty sure that he can be the next mayor of Houston. Nothing against Sylvester Turner, the Harvard Law-educated, ex-congressman and current incumbent, but he wouldn't stand a chance against the Boss of All Bosses, the legendary Swishahouse alumnus, whose popularity in the Lone Star state rivals the eternal devotion of Bruce Springsteen fans in New Jersey.
"If Donald Trump can be the president, I can be the mayor. The only thing I ever did was smoke weed," the 36-year old rapper says, nonchalantly assessing his political odds in the backseat of an Uber SUV. He's being shuttled to the Day for Night Festival, where he's set to rock an H-Town showcase alongside a handful of hometown icons (Devin the Dude, Bun B, Paul Wall, Mike Jones, Lil Flip, Lil Keke, and Z-Ro).
"It don't matter what you've done anymore," the original Thugga continues, wearing green pants, a white Hogglife T-shirt, a black patent leather snapback, dark mirrored shades and a thick "don't mess with Texas" beard. "Trump's wife posed for naked photos and stole someone's speech and he still won!"
Since Calvin Coolidge claimed, "the chief business of the American people is business," there's been the misguided belief that everything would run smoothly if cities, states, and the nation itself were run like an efficient conglomerate. Factor in the 21st century obsession with celebrity and social media, and it's no surprise that Donald Trump won.
"I'm going to run on one issue. I'm going to fix the streets because I know we like our rims and don't want them to get fucked up."
For those same reasons, I would bet on the North Side's Slim Thug uniting the subtly diverse and far-flung quadrants of his hometown. He's a famously savvy entrepreneur who has owned record stores, run his own label, and created a BossLife brand of T-shirts and shoes. He's a real estate mogul who builds homes with his BossLife construction. The guy could teach a class on vertical integration at Rice. And unlike the President, you can trust Slum Thug with the nuclear codes; after all, he squashed beefs with Z-Ro, Rick Ross, and Lil Flip with nary a shot fired.
"I'm going to run on one issue," Thug smirks, filming this soliloquy for Instagram Live. "I'm going to fix the streets because I know we like our rims and don't want them to get fucked up."
Then he interrupts himself to point out a new Pappadeaux's that they just built downtown.
Houston is so sprawling that it might as well be its own country: one with its own slang, heroes, and social codes that simultaneously entice and are exoticized by outsiders. Hence, why it's lingo and customs from slabs to sauce have been constantly re-appropriated over the last decade. But that's partially why it celebrates its rap legends with the same evangelical fervor as a Joel Osteen disciple (Thug, in fact, sampled the Texas mega-church pastor on 2015's "Church.")
Maybe you only remember the rapper born Stayve Thomas for his verse on "Still Tippin" and Already Platinum, his full-length collaboration with the Neptunes. But for almost a decade before and after that major label debut, Slim Thug has operated as a de facto H-Town Sultan of Swang. In 2014, the city officially proclaimed February 25th "Slim Thug day." When Anthony Bourdain touched down in Screwston, Slim Thug took him to Burns BBQ and taught him the second meaning of candy-coated.
Over two dozen mixtapes and albums, Thug has instantiated his city's independent streak, unshakeable sense of self-reliance, and ten-gallon confidence. He talks shit with the glorious arrogance and double-barreled baritone of the man who introduced himself to the world as "that 6'6" long dick slim nigga sticking your chick." And his latest, February's Welcome 2 Houston, lays more groundwork for his future political fortunes.
Following his performance at Day for Night, we spoke at Houston's 8th Wonder Brewery, sipping glasses of his "Boss Beer." Interrupted constantly by admirers and fans, Thug simultaneously greeted them and answered my questions without missing a beat. Every vote counts.
Noisey: What was your childhood like growing up on the North Side?
Slim Thug: It was cool. I was from the hood. Raised by single mother with seven kids, and I'm the baby. We moved all over the Northside from the Homestead area to the Acres Homes area. There were a lot of evictions. I went to about 11 different schools growing up. so I don't really have a lot of the day one friends that I've I known all my life.
I feel like youngest children always get a little hand-me-down wisdom inherited from their older siblings.
Exactly, man. You see everything… brothers going to jail and we have to drive to go visit them, momma's struggling to put money on they books, shit like that. You just see a lot of your older brothers, and start hanging around older people so you understand shit more and mature faster.
Obviously, Rap-A-Lot must've been everywhere.
The GOATs and pioneers of Houston. That was the major label from Houston that made us look like, "Yo, that's the big time, Rap-A-Lot." We also had a huge independent scene. Every neighborhood had a record label in the 90s. Every neighborhood had successful stars: Fat Pat, DJ Screw, Lil Keke. So it's a beautiful thing man, and that was our mind frame because we had the plug in Houston. We had Southwest Wholesale, which was a distribution company. Us having access to that that gave us the boss mind frame like, "hey man. let's start our own record label."
You could go pick up your check right down the street from where I was living, and we was selling 100,000 albums at $8. That's a lick. That's almost a million bucks. You not thinking, "Oh let me go sell my boxes to a major label." You thinking, "Damn I can do all this right here."
Then there was the chopped and screwed. It was bigger than anything going on right now. Everybody was listening to it, not just black folks. It wasn't even albums though. It was mixtapes. We'd freestyle over other people's shit at home, go to compact center, purchase 1000 blanks, press 'em up at the crib, put the cover on 'em, and sell 'em wholesale for $8 in the stores.
That was a lot of money, so to go to New York and say, "man they wanna give me $250,000 for 4 albums?" It didn't make sense. It did if you really wanted to be famous. You had to pick. Do I want to get some money right now or do I want to be really famous? And that might not work because we on some chopped and screwed shit, and the world wasn't ready for it back then.
Did people come to Houston trying to throw money at you before the Star Trak/Interscope deal?
Every label, man. I talked to Lyor Cohen, all the different labels at that time, but I was young and I was just thinking get some money, and Interscope and Geffen was coming with that. I'd been independent since 17 and was 24 at the time. I was going to the same places over and over and felt that it was time to go to the next level.
A lot of motherfuckers can't even trace the real work I've put in because it was all chopped and screwed, but these motherfuckers out here know, because I was hand to hand and met them. That's the difference.
One of the things that always struck me about the Chopped and Screwed tapes was how broad DJ Screw's tastes were. He'd have a random Z-Ro verse next to Above The Law.
DJ Screw was a master at that. The difference between Michael Watts of Swishahouse and DJ Screw, was that he was more on some, live, you know, everything live. Michael Watts played what's out now, the new hot songs. He'll play it up to date like it was radio. You want to hear the new hot songs? It's on the new Swishahouse tape, and we got a freestyle with it.
It's hard to even explain it, you had to be here to really see it. Everybody was superstars. Lil Flip, Yungstar. Everybody had people running up to them everywhere they were.
"Everyone was a star. That's why it was so big. Everybody was into it because they might be getting a shout out. Or if not them, their neighborhood."
It holds up because it feels like it's rap in its purest form. Young kids first trying to impress their friends next to them, and then impress the neighborhood and the city at large.
Exactly—because that's what it was based on. DJ Screw and Swishahouse it was, "aye shout out to my boy Larry riding on vogues, the neighborhood dope dealer." We shouting him out, shouting out his car, and then we naming our neighborhoods and different people from our hood, so everyone was a star. That's why it was so big. Everybody was into it because they might be getting a shout out. Or if not them, their neighborhood.
Who were your favorite rappers as a kid?
I started really listening to rap at eight years old through Too $hort and Eazy-E. As I got older and grew up and got more into it, it was the Rap-A-Lot days—they woke us up on everything. The Geto Boys and Scarface led to the UGKs, and that UGK era was just, that was the world.
How do you feel like Houston itself on a cultural level has changed?
Houston used to be a big small town where everybody was on candy cars and chopped and screwed music, and that was what you would see all day, every day. But now, there are so many people from so many other places that it's turned into a real city.
Shit changes. It used to be that every song on the radio damn near was from a rapper from around here, and it's definitely not like that anymore. But we still get support out here from local radio stations.
Was your entrepreneurial streak innate or something honed growing up on the streets?
It's normal to me, man. More than being known as a rapper, I want to be a successful businessman. I feel like I need to have some legacy to hand down to my children and family.
I've always been a rapper, but never just a rapper. I wanted to be more like a J. Prince than Scarface.
When did the idea of calling yourself the boss start to gestate?
I had a dropped El Dorado, which was the car from the show , Dukes of Hazzard. And that show had Boss Hogg, so they used to call me Boss Hogg before I was even rapping. So I always had the Boss Hogg thing, and I did a mixtape called The Boss a long time ago, back in 2000 or 2001. That really made people start calling me that.
What has being an entrepreneur taught you about management and how to delegate authority?
It's just hard work. You expect that because you're a rapper and have some money that you just jump into whatever business you want and be successful. But you have to jump into each business knowing you're a beginner. You have to respect everybody and realize that you can't just dump a bunch of bread into something and think it's going to work out, and you're going to be the man. You have to start from the bottom like everybody else and build yourself up and get the knowledge and do the work, and understand it. That's the way to be successful in anything.
How old were you when you bought your first record store?
Nineteen or 20. One of the owners of a CD store had to go to jail, and he was going to shut the shop down, so we dropped 20 bands, and he let us take over. And we made that 20 bands back that same month. We went from wholeselling it to him for $8 dollars to selling a CD for $15, and we kept all the money. The flip was just amazing. We spent 50 cents on each one and kept $15.
I first learned the game from DJ Michael Watts in Swishahouse. When we hit the road, we hit all the stores and slanged them CDs and tapes in club parking lots, parks, the mall. I had a backpack in school full of them.
I understood what it was and that I couldn't go to jail for it. Everything that I knew before that, I had to go to jail for what I was selling. After I saw that, I started taking rapping more seriously and doing better flows and marketing. Show money started coming in and I just started building.
What first got you into real estate?
That's just the move. Boss Life Construction we build from the bottom up. We got a whole block in Acres Homes. Eight houses all together. We're trying to clean up the neighborhood and make affordable homes, so it's a good thing, a positive thing and good business.
Are the lessons you learned in rap applicable to real-estate development?
They're all life lessons to me. I don't really go into character, so I just really sit back and look at life the same way. Dealing with rap and dealing with the business side of it, definitely helps you in any other thing you do. If you don't have your eyes open, you can end up lost.
"When you own your masters, you get a check every month. I live off of that. Boss of All Bosses still probably pays all my bills."
So are you really going to run for mayor?
Shit, I was just joking. I don't know. I doubt it… but maybe. I'm gonna have to do some more amazing shit in Houston to where motherfuckers can see that and I can say, "Yeah, I used to rap and do this here, but look what I did for the community." So if I keep building that up, then who knows? Maybe I will run.
Looking back on that kid that first became known to the world in 2004, how do you think you've evolved as an artist since then?
Just bossed up. Everybody's catching up though. As that shit turns into iTunes and Apple streams, everybody's going to start being independent and caring about having their masters. It's crazy how in the rap game, people look forward to selling themselves. They're ready to sell themselves for a deal and don't even own their masters.
It sounds cool. It's a check, but that first check to do the album is probably the only check you're most likely going to receive. You're gonna be recouping forever. When you own your masters, you get a check every month. I live off of that. Boss of All Bosses still probably pays all my bills.
What do you think it is that has allowed Houston rap and the culture to sustain itself and thrive?
It's a transcending culture, man. What we was doing out here a long time ago, motherfuckers is just now doing it around the world. When we was going around talking about drank, New York mothafuckas was like "Y'all down there sipping cough syrup, B?"
It was like we were tripping, but now everybody on it. The chopped and screwed shit was trendsetting man, but I don't know, it's just something about the 1990s Houston movement that just was infectious. Everybody wanted to get on it, everybody wanted to be a part of it, and everybody loved it.
What are the most important things for people to understand about you as a man and an artist?
I don't think people understand how successful I am in Houston. I don't have a major deal, so the shit that I do doesn't reach everywhere. I'm not spending money to promote my shit. I don't spend no money on radio. I don't do none of that.
But because I don't do that I end up getting all my money. I never got off the radio out here. I've always had something going on here in Houston. When I go out of town to New York or something, people know me for "Still Tippin," but I have Houston hits that paid us for years and years. There's so much music that's been done, but only pushed through independent channels and a lot of people in the world don't know that. But if you go to Apple Music and look up Slim Thug, it's like a long-ass catalog.
If you wasn't around here in Houston, you couldn't even understand how these people out here still know me and my music.
What's most valuable to you in life?
Life is about building and taking your family to the next level. If you're in the hood, you need to take your family out the hood. You need to leave something for your family. It's about family for me. It's about living and leaving a good legacy.
Jeff Weiss is already platinum on Twitter.