The Struggle Behind Sauce Walka’s Chaotic Charisma
Sauce Walka, born Albert Walker Mondale, is standing in the recording studio of his record label EMPIRE’s office in Midtown Manhattan. He is slowly rocking his body back and forth while holding a loosely rolled blunt, as if he is anxious to tell me what is on his mind. The Houston rapper and I have been eager to make this interview happen ever since he announced that he was making New Sauce City 2, an album full of the soul beats rapped over dramatically but effortlessly. Look past the beads that slide through his braids, the wrist full of lush gold, the Houston drawl, and you’ll see someone who is itching to tell you his story — so much so that he can’t stay still. He is talking in a run-on sentence about who is on the record. How Alchemist is the best producer he ever worked with; how Daringer laced him too; how he loves rapping over chipmunk soul beats. He’d never admit it to me, or anyone else, but he couldn’t wait for this interview.
Sauce, 32, is formidably armed with new music, and his excitement is palpable. He’s playing me songs from the new record; one of them has a loop that sounds like a choir’s soft screams during baptism gone wrong. Sauce’s mission has long been rapping about the daily surroundings of his childhood — and how those traumas have manifested in self-medication — or the anointed horror of memories haunted by an absence of tranquility. As a rapper, he’s capable of emotional vigor that attacks and devours like a lion in a nature show. See: “Without You,” off of Ghetto Gospel 3, where he raps: “My momma would leave me for a month with chicken/ At her cousin house where she out smoking with some nigga, tricking.” What he lacks in wordplay, he makes up for with intense enunciation and a rough and ungodly exterior combined with vast sensitivities. If the infamous fable about parading Roman generals being told “all glory is fleeting” by a pauper is true, then it would describe Sauce’s music. Nothing is ever at its stage of comfortability; all past deeds and traumas are limitlessly present.
Growing up in South Houston was hardly a stroll in Hermann Park for Walka, as he grew up with his mom addicted to drugs. But growing up in H-Town also means existing within a pillar of rap music; barbecue and candy-painted eighty-eights; women with big buttocks and hustlers with jewelry. “It was magical and treacherous,” Walka explains to me. “There is the way of life that comes from the music we listen to. All our history, and style, comes from the south side of Houston.”
Sauce’s mom, who died when he was 25, was in and out of his life. He went back and forth from Houston to Chicago to see her sometimes, but in a quarter century on Earth together, he only spent six years around her. In his music and in his regular life, Sauce is not healed from his mom being a drug addict and sex worker. On the YouTube show Say Cheese, Sauce crassly says, “My mom was hoe, she was a stripper.” You shouldn’t expect to see Walka make a sentimental track like “Dear Mama”; you should, instead, expect him to wear his mom’s failings — according to Sauce — on his sleeve as fuel. “I was deprived of the innocent moments, the moments with a mom that you cherish,” he says. “Same thing with my grandparents passing away too. So, when you are someone like me — who has that much lost — it draws you more into the streets. It was my therapy.”
For Walka, being in the streets meant a certain solipsistic freedom; for his family, it meant being pulled into harm’s way. When Sauce was 15, the house where he lived with his father and stepmother got shut up by a group of rival hustlers. “[The shooters] thought I was home. One of [my parents’] cars got blew up on some movie time, and they shot up my house. Forty-six bullets,” Walka explains. “I was barely living at this house anyway. But still.” Later, when his dad asked whether he was going to continue his activity on the street or be the obedient son he raised, Walka said he was already a goner. Walka would burn or buy mixtapes full of songs that he would then freestyle over. Often, he would rap about beating up a person who he considered his opposition. “I had to use my talent to make money on top of me hustling and robbing. I am a leader, not a follower. So I tried just about everything. Girls always liked me. I was one of them type of niggas,” Walka says. The streets had been watched; and now, they had won.
On top of the embarrassment and fatalistic worry that come with someone shooting up your house, Sauce was always well-known in the neighborhood. With his Houston drawl that stretches out every vowel like a yo-yo, Sauce explains to me his feelings towards his dubious popularity around Houston at the time: “I was a real popular kid in every school district. I was one of those kids where my entire city knew about me since I was in middle school. All eight districts knew me. I was a part of a big clique,” Walka claims. Still, despite his notoriety, Sauce wasn’t yet rapping professionally; the streets were his occupation at the time. Before he became Sauce Walka, he rapped under the name A-Walk in the group and street set Mostheard. “I had respect from everyone,” Walka tells me.
I heard Sauce Walka for the first time when I was in a hotel room in Buffalo, preparing for an interview with Buffalo rapper Westside Gunn. On Hitler Wears Hermes 8: Sincerely Adolf — a title only a suicidal maniac could create — Walka steals the show on the album’s best song, “Westheimer.” Backed by a beat that sounds like a jazz band’s off-kilter practice session, Walka is bursting with wry humor — the equivalent of a man who just crashed a party at the Roc Nation brunch. Walka, practically screaming, says “I own a Rolls Royce in real life/ Black and pink painted like Serena Williams in pink tights” with the glee of a kid in the student section at a basketball game. But what felt rarefied was that on that record, nothing was rarefied. The pudding was store bought. His tone wasn’t indignant like Scarface, playful and nonchalant like Pimp C, or modishly authoritative like Maxo Kream. Instead, it was just proud and pure, like a Texan who bought land from his oil money. Specifically, after the merely average verses from Stove God Cooks, Westside Gunn, and Boldy James, Walka’s vigorous passion became not only the song-stealing verse, but also the height of the whole tape. Once again, as it was in my childhood, a Houston rapper had showed out on a New York rapper’s album.
To say that the history between Houston and New York is successful would be an understatement. DJ Premier, a producer known for a signature East Coast sound, was born and raised in Houston; Scarface was humanized for the East Coast over Just Blaze and Kanye West chipmunk soul beats; Pimp C and Bun B were given a spot on Jay-Z’s best single ever. What is the reason for the connection between the two hubs? Walka thinks it is because of the rapping styles. “In Houston, we are all about freestyling off the top of our dome, just like New York. And I always like Mobb Deep and the battle rap scene,” Walka says. “The Smack DVDs and the Come Up DVDs were big in Houston.”
Soon, at a later and unannounced date, Walka is set to drop New Sauce City 2, an album full of Sauce spitting over soul loops. Here, in the city, is where Walka has been in the past two weeks, finishing the album and wreaking havoc both on Instagram, and in the streets. He even took a trip to see DJ Premier, although he is not sure whether Preemo will be on the album. (When asked to comment on the nude photo posted to Sauce’s OnlyFans page, his PR rep, probably correctly, gave me a swift “no.”) But the havoc of Walka doesn’t stop the unrelenting and tenacious work ethic he has. “I will never let anyone take this away from me. The man I became was from my trials and tribulations,” Sauce says. “You don’t know that fire burns until you put your hand in that pot.”
New Sauce City 2 is out soon via The Sauce Familia/EMPIRE.