Paul Wall was huge, both metaphorically and physically, at the peak of Swishahouse days back in the mid-2000s. The Houston native had already gained a huge buzz from his underground mixtapes with Chamillionaire, especially after releasing the independent album Get Ya Mind Correct. Soon after, Swishahouse was everywhere—Chopped and Screwed, candy paint, slab riders; Houston's sound and culture made the jump to mainstream, and in the center of all of this was a young Paul Wall who worked himself up to being No. 1 on the Billboard 200, with The People's Champ.

But as time went on and his contract was up, Paul found himself without a label, without any knowledge of how to put out music, and weighing more than he ever had. Lost, he went back to his roots and started over. With the help of fellow rapper and friend, Slim Thug, Paul learned the intricacies of being the head of a label and how to operate independently, hopping back in the lab and making records he actually liked, resulting in his album #Checkseason, which dropped on Dec. 10. While he was in New York, Paul swung by the XXL offices to talk about his weight loss, his label situation, #Checkseason and the nervousness that comes with being independent. —Emmanuel C.M. (@ECM_LP)

XXL: You've lost a ton of weight; you have to tell me your secret.
Paul Wall: The number one thing is you've got to exercise, eat right and all of that. You've got to limit the poison you put in your body. Whether it be smoking, drinking, whatever, you've got to limit it. You've got to know when to say when. But after all of that—I tried all of it—I still ain’t lose no weight. So I cheated. I took the secret way out and had surgery. It saved my life. It took me to a whole 'nother place and it really saved my life. The doctor told me if you're really 50 pounds overweight, it takes 15 years off your life. I was almost 140 pounds overweight.

I dedicated myself full-time to try to lose weight. I did everything I said with diet and exercise, but I think the years of partying [and] excess caught up with my metabolism and it didn’t work out. So my last resort was surgery. And I did it. It changed my life. I feel so much better. I have so much energy. As a person, I’m much more happier, too, so I'm glad that I did it. A lot of people would be embarrassed or ashamed of having surgery like that, but to me, I’m proud. It changed my life. I’m not ashamed to say that. After surgery it ain’t no doubt in my mind I wouldn't be here right now. It'd be a "Rest In Peace" interview or something. I’m happy to say that God led me out of being morbidly obese and put me to where I’m at now, and feeling healthy.

At your heaviest, how much did you weigh?
That last time I stepped on a scale I was over 320 pounds. But my girl always be teasing me saying, "You know you were at least 350." [Laughs]

What's your record label situation like now?
I’m just independent; I’m just putting it out underground. Back to where it all started, back to the basics. I’m really following my brother Slim Thug's lead, what he doing now, putting his mixtape out. Same thing, just piggybacking everything he’s doing. Taking it back to the underground. There’ve been a few offers from labels, but people want to see what you can do on your own before they get behind you. We basically just have been back underground, developing our fan base back [to where] it all started; putting mixtapes out, selling them myself, doing meet and greets, showing love to the fans.

How big was Swishahouse during the mid-2000s?
At the time you're so caught up in everything, you don’t really see it. Sometimes you get caught up into it and it puts you on a pedestal that you think is bigger than it is, but you don’t know, because in your mind... It's hard to say, ain’t no telling, man. We still see it around the world. When we were coming up, we were always treated as a local label, a local sound, positively and negatively. People cherished us because we represented where we they was from and the culture. Then on another note, a lot of people looked down on it as just some local stuff. So to see admiration and respect worldwide, it's still amazing, because I’m so used to everybody telling me I’m just a local artist.

But to me, that’s where I'm at now. I’m trying to be a local artist. I’m not trying to be a mainstream artist, I’m not even trying to be an international artist. The music I’m making, it’s not really for the world, it’s for my local air. I’m trying to be a hero to my hometown and show the mistakes I might have made or the opportunities I might have missed. I missed a lot of my opportunities because of Texas thinking. I got opportunities because of Texas thinking—just to show an up-and-coming artist and try to give them a helping hand and help them along.

What has been Houston's influence in hip-hop over the years?
It's amazing still when I hear it, because when I grew up, there was this mind frame—especially in New York—that there’s not love for the South. Everybody in New York thought people from the South are country, and they looked down on people. It was just that stigma. But from the first time I ever came to New York back in 2003 with Chamillionaire [when] we were about to get a record deal, I never experienced that. All the people I met from New York, I never got any type of disrespect or that feeling that people are looking at me like I can’t rap because I’m from the South.

Even in Texas they used they used to have these hot sauce commercials and it'd be these cowboys, and they taste the chips in salsa and one of them says, “Where they made this from?” The other said, “New York City,” and he said, “New York City? Get a rope.” It’s just the mindframe that the South and New York don’t mix. But I never experienced that. For me coming up here, it was always just nothing but love. So to see that type of sound being accepted, especially here, it’s amazing. So much love, so much acceptance for the music and the style, especially the chopped and screwed style. That’s a real local and regionalized sound to be accepted in the birthplace of hip-hop. It’s amazing, man.

Tell me about your new album, #Checkseason.
This is a theme project. First off, there are no songs for girls on there, no songs for the radio, no songs for the strip club; it’s just like the blueprint to make a rap record. It's just been over-used. It’s so cliché. There's a thousand of them right now, same concept, and same song. I just didn’t want to do that. I didn’t make it for them. I made it for me and people like me; for slab riders, for us to bump in our car or for my boys in the trap. This is the type of music that we would listen to. The artists that I would listen to at the time is like Young Dolph or Stunna Bam, a lot of underground music that a lot of the mainstream doesn’t know about. It really influenced me and the sound I wanted. I wanted an underground sound.

I don’t want to make music that I don’t like. I want to make music that I like. So that why I made it start to end, all like this. Even the next project I got, its already done. It’s called The Po Up Poet. It’s going to be coming up this year. I’m going after a specific fan base. I never had my own record label. I’m kind of starting from the ground up, but I got good momentum going with the recordings I’ve been doing.

Are you nervous about being independent?
The only nervousness is that God put me in a position with a lot of opportunity and a lot of relationships and I hope I don’t fuck it up. That’s where the nervousness comes in. But God gave me a great mind and great heart and as long as I keep grinding and keep [treating] people with the same respect... I got a good team around me. We all learning as we go. The only failure is not putting out music. That’s one thing I learned. When my record deal came up, I didn’t have a record label and I didn’t know how to put out my music. Slim Thug really came out and showed me how to do that. Now I’m getting my feet wet and learning. I got it out and I have next year already planned.