In an era where music is more disposable than ever, much is left desired in an industry that seemingly champions quantity over quality. More listeners are proclaiming that “Real Hip Hop” is slowly (or quickly, depending on who you ask) dying due to an overabundance of negativity that feeds into the stereotype of the modern Black person. This leaves the marketplace overflowing with quickly delivered microwavable content when what is really needed is food for thought and the soul. Combining rap and guitar, musician SaulPaul delivers that thought and soul food.
SaulPaul spent two years in a Texas prison. For the nearly 20 years since his release, he’s traveled the world with a message:
“My mom died when I was 3, my dad ran off and left. I made bad decisions and went to prison. I had a bad hand and made it worse. But nonetheless, I can succeed. But part of that is because I have a victor mentality versus a victim mentality. So it’s not ‘woe is me’. I don’t see obstacles. The greater the obstacle, the greater the glory once I succeed. I’m trying to really empower people with that same mindset.”
I have a victor mentality versus a victim mentality.
For most Blacks in America, incarceration can be all but a death sentence, removing and isolating them through separation, with many of these individuals seeing no benefits from paying their debt to society. Black and Latino people comprised 58 percent of all prisoners [in 2008], even though together they comprise approximately 25 percent of the U.S. population.
All too often we hear the tales of brothers and sisters who are swallowed by the system, and seldom do we hear and see examples of those who beat those same odds to success.
One of those shining examples of triumph despite adversity is the “Musician with a Message,” SaulPaul. SaulPaul has come a long way from the road of a statistic to a true master of his destiny, all while using music to help guide others along the way. His mission is to teach everyone how to “Dream in 3-D”. In other words, to turn your dreams into reality. The inspiration for Dream in 3-D came from his song and book of the same name, Tower to Tower, which is symbolic of the incredible change he made with his life going from the prison tower to the University of Texas tower, as he graduated from the renowned University of Texas at Austin (UT) with a 4.0 GPA.
SaulPaul’s story of redemption began as a young child in an impoverished section of Houston, Texas, and reads like your typical gangster rap song. With his father absent and mother passing at an early age, SaulPaul was raised solely by his grandmother the best she knew how.
Growing up in Texas, the influence of Hip Hop is strong and runs deep through the veins of the city. Freestlying is embedded in the city culture, so Hip Hop surrounds his journey. His first encounter with making music came from just freestyling with friends merely as a fun way to pass the time. According to SaulPaul, “I’ve always loved music….but I was just a listener at that time. I used to freestyle. I feel like if you’re from Texas, everybody freestyles.” The true calling of music manifested as a random invitation to record at a friend’s studio.
“I didn’t even know what a verse was. They actually wanted me to write a verse on a song, and they had to explain it to me. I didn’t understand what it was; it took a minute. When I finally wrote the verse, something clicked. Something clicked it was like, ‘Oh Snap! This is what I was born to do.’ That’s when I fell in love and started becoming a creator of music.”
This is what I was born to do.
He would draw his musical inspiration from legends such as Scarface and 2PAC, but he didn’t appreciate lyricism until a college classmate let him hear the calculated baritone of Christopher Wallace, a.k.a. The Notorious B.I.G. “Biggie he was my bridge into the world of lyricism. 2PAC just because of his passion, his authenticity. His storytelling and the way he did it. Being from Houston, I used to rock with Scarface regardless. After I got introduced to lyricism and story telling, I started seeing Scarface different. His delivery and storytelling, the concepts he was bringing….It was foolish!”
Guided by his newfound mission, SaulPaul began leveraging his skills as a personal trainer to barter for either piano or guitar lessons. The student who took the deal just so happened to play guitar. SaulPaul embraced guitar playing as an act of defiance that broke stereotypical opinions of rap as a craft.
“Being in Austin, I used to just feel like people didn’t respect rap for the art that it is. In Austin, it will be like, ‘I’m a musician.’ ‘What do you play?’ ‘I rap.’ ‘Oh…yeah…’”
Defiance gave way to love that paved SaulPaul’s own lane as an artist. This lane is how SaulPaul shows and proves that it is bigger than just music, as he also is known for his reputation as an equally accomplished motivational speaker. He believes that artists need to have something unique to say that will add value to or challenge the status quo.
“I think as an artist there should be some part of you that’s rebellious….not rebellious to be rebellious, but just by nature because you are addressing the status quo to add something new to it, or going against the grain and it makes a difference.”
As an artist, there should be some part of you that’s rebellious.
Despite working a good job with KVUE and his successful escape from his beginnings, after graduating from UT something kept nagging at SaulPaul: his need to keep as real as possible. SaulPaul felt deeply compelled to give back to the community in some way, shape or form. Volunteering to speak to alternative students at Gonzalo Garza Independence High School, he realized the next step in his progression. Later that day, he received a heartfelt email of appreciation from one of the students. That is when the “Musician With a Message” was born.
SaulPaul’s gift to combine music and inspiration has taken him across the world. If nothing else, his message is meant to empower. And that’s what it does.
SaulPaul’s new book, Dream in 3-D, and it’s accompanying weekly vlog series (with a new episode each Monday) and mobile gaming app, were released on Jun. 12, which is also SaulPaul Day, as proclaimed in 2014 by the mayor and City of Austin.