Down in Houston, meals are noticeably large. The Texas ranch mentality seeps into city life and many of the most beloved restaurants balance the hearty Tex-Mex and Southern influences that hold sway in the region. This cuisine can be a delicious indulgence for visitors, but being surrounded by it constantly can be a challenge for the health-conscious.
Take, for example, local rap legend Paul Wall, who is making an effort to buck the accepted eating habits of his hometown. The People’s Champ burst onto the national scene in 2005 with a scene-stealing verse on Mike Jones’ “Still Tippin’,” boasting through his diamond-encrusted grill that he had the “Internet goin’ nuts.” He embodied the go-big Texas lifestyle. Times have changed.
“We don’t have many role models in hip-hop when it comes to fitness,” says Wall, “I didn’t have anyone to look to for inspiration.”
Wall cites DJ AM as a central force in the decision to get healthy. “I didn’t know him when he was big,” he says. “Before he passed, we had conversations about how he had changed. I was amazed that he’d been fat, it was an eye-opening experience—at his funeral, when I saw the pictures, I realized most people didn’t remember the big AM. In my mind, I remember thinking ‘I want to lose weight and I don’t want people remembering the big me.’”
We don’t have many role models in hip-hop when it comes to fitness.
Along with wife Crystal, Wall took an aggressive approach to fitness. He lost 100 pounds in 2010 thanks to gastric sleeve surgery and a fresh outlook on eating. “In the South, every meal is a feast,” he says. “You have to finish your plate before you get to the sweets. Things are fatty, the foods lead to health risks. People in my life, close friends, sometimes pass due to unhealthy lifestyles, which makes you analyze your own life.”
For his children, and others in the hip-hop community, Wall wants to “break the cycle” (a term he credits his wife with feeding him). “Being big, fat, and overweight is sloppy,” says Wall with a chuckle, “Nobody wants to be the fat guy.”
This is a truth with a little sting to it, but also one with motivational potential (Wall also jokes that the “big and small Luther Vandross jokes” help keep him on the dietary straight and narrow). After transforming their lives, Paul and Crystal teamed with Quincy Jones III’s Feel Rich—an organization dedicated to “remixing” the health and lifestyle industry and making “every ‘hood in the world healthier”—becoming spokespeople for an important movement.
Crystal writes a cooking blog and works as a fitness instructor while remaining Paul’s biggest support in healthy living.
“My wife, she’s my babysitter when it comes to cheating,” he says. “It is a team effort. You need an eating buddy. Everyday we cheat a little bit. You have to choose your battles. I don’t have binge days, but I might throw some cheese on. I’ve learned when to say when.”
With the NBA All-Star Weekend landing in Houston this weekend, First We Feast has enlisted Wall as our eating buddy. Acknowledging that the city has some calorific pitfalls, he’s compiled a list of five go-to restaurants that will hit the spot without leaving you in a food coma through all the ASG action.
Written by Nick Schonberger (@nschon)