Slim: “When you have kids, you have to think about things differently.” Photo by Vishal Malhotra Cover design by Louis Dixon.

Solar Slim is a veteran of the rap game. Though perhaps an unfamiliar name, the Fort Worth native has been grinding in the scene under the radar for more than a decade. He’s been linked with a host of notable MCs like DJ Chose and Superstar and even produced a Billboard charting song with Def Jam alum Bone tha Mack in 2010. But thus far, his contributions to the world of hip-hop have come solely from behind the producer’s desk, making beats and writing songs for other artists. On Thursday, however, Slim will make his first foray in front of the mic with the release of his debut LP, Vice City, finally adding his own voice to the growing cadre of local self-reflective rappers who are attempting to offer substance over simply selling out.

“I’ve definitely worked with a lot of people in the past that have gone on to do notable things –– you know, young artists coming up,” Slim said about his transition from producer to rapper. “I’ve been around it, been close to it, been in the vicinity of it, but to finally be able to do it myself at this point has been pretty cool.”

Slim said rapping had always been in the back of his mind, something he’s wanted to do since he was remixing and rapping his childish raps over old Jay-Z tracks in high school. But until now, he’d never really made a serious attempt at doing it in earnest. On his debut, Slim wrote, produced, recorded, mixed, and mastered the 10 tracks completely on his own at his home studio, and, amazingly, the work was completed start to finish in just three months. Slim surprisingly credits fatherhood for finally inspiring him to put his own thoughts into words and draping them over his beats.

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“When you have kids, you have to think about things differently,” he said. “You have to think about them before everything. Having my first daughter is what made me uncomfortable with my vices. I used to be in bliss with my vices and be in paradise with them, and [this album] is about me trying to be as transparent as possible, giving as much of myself and my story as I possibly can, realizing that that’s not what I want anymore.”

As the name Vice City suggests – beyond its intentional nod to Rockstar Games’ debaucherous smash hit video game, which Slim says he played obsessively – Slim focuses on his loose and fairly careless lifestyle before fatherhood. It’s a concept album that takes the listener on a journey through a virtual landscape made of Slim’s libidinous history, complete with Siri-voiced turn-by-turn directions that link the album’s 10 tracks, creating a truly immersive experience.

We follow our protagonist through milestones like “Binge Blvd” and “Temptation Dr.,” stopping off at “Nostalgia Way” before making our way to “Home Sweet Home,” all the while guided by Slim’s smooth R&B-tinged trap beats. It’s an open confessional of noncommittal relationships, illicit substances, and money chasing, iniquities that Slim said he used to let control him but now, thanks to his daughters, that he can look back on with a clear-eyed understanding of what’s really important in life.

“I just don’t really get excited about the things I see other people get excited about –– the flashy stuff, you know, jewelry, designer clothes, expensive cars, and all of that,” he said. “There’s a world for that. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I’ve always been a person that values the things that are really going to matter. The things in life that you can’t replace are what you’re supposed to be focused on, and that’s people.”

In addition to his debut as a proper rapper, this spring will see Slim, who doesn’t perform often, make his inaugural appearance on a festival stage. He just secured an enviable spot alongside Bobby Sessions and Leon Bridges at this year’s Fortress Festival. As a means of promotion for the album and the festival slot, he will be selling copies of Vice City for just $1 for a limited time, and each purchase will earn an entry into a drawing for tickets to the sought-after two-day annual music event in the Cultural District. 

“Big shout out to Fortress Festival,” he said, “That’s a really, really big deal for me to be playing that in my hometown. I’m very gracious to the people that made it possible.”

Though he feels things are starting to fall into place for him recently, he said he’s trying to remain grounded, all the while hoping his openness is making a positive impression upon his listeners.

“I always try to make sure I get on the level with people,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense to be artificial. I want to be as honest as I can about who I am and give that to people so they can have something to enjoy. That’s why I call myself Solar Slim. I’m solar powered. 

“The sun gives us hope, if nothing else,” he continued. “The sun reminds us that we woke up to another day. And I just try to be that same light for people.”