story Toshitaka Kondo /// photography Sumner Dilworth
Lately, every rap is laced with candy cars. It’s the new hip-hop prerequisite, especially if you hail from Houston. But to Hakeem “Chamillionaire” Seriki, rhyming about whips is automatic. Even before the self-proclaimed “Mixtape Messiah” became a certified Grammy Award–winning rapper for his ubiquitous, “Weird Al” Yankovic–parodied single, “Ridin’ Dirty,” he got in on the customizing shop, Fly Rydes, with partner and good friend Ernest “Big Ernest” Lowery. The shop customized the ’84 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz featured in Cham’s “Turn It Up” video, which was eventually gifted to UGK’s Pimp C, as well as the ’96 Chevrolet Impala the “Ridin’ Dirty” video made iconic. Understandably, that Impala is one of the few rides Cham won’t part with. He is open to offers for anything else in his swollen fleet that includes an ’02 candy-green Orange County Chopper, ’02 Suzuki Hayabusa, ’02 diesel Ford Excursion on 28s, ’08 Ford F450 on 24s, ’01 candy-green BMW 745Li on 22s, ’96 Chevrolet Impala on 22s, ’67 drop-top Plymouth Fury, ’68 Camaro SS convertible, ’75 banana-yellow Cadillac Coupe deVille, yellow ’96 Chevrolet Impala, ’77 Chrysler Newport on 84s and Vogues, ’05 Hummer H2 and ’06 white Cadillac Escalade on 26s. Yeah, that’s one hell of a list. Take a breath, then keep reading on why, for this H-Town Boss, candy-paint drippin’ ain’t just a way of life, it’s big business.
How did you get involved with Fly Rydes in 2004?
Big Ernest actually had the shop [since 1993]. He was painting all of Slim Thug’s cars, and that’s how I met him. Thinking back to when I was 17 or 18, I used to see this guy riding around Acre Homes in this Suburban on some 19-inch blades painted with bowling-ball stripes on it. Ernest was that dude, so we instantly clicked. Then this police officer sold me a motorcycle. I don’t ride motorcycles, so I just had it in my garage. Ernest painted the bike with chameleon paint, and it was changing colors. [After that] I just told him, “Man, I want to go into business with you.”
Why did you want to go into business with Ernest?
I saw so much potential. I wouldn’t have done it if it was something like grilles. People will stop liking those eventually, but cars are always in style. He’s not just taking a car and painting it. He’ll make a complete car from a frame and put the engine in and do everything in the whole car. He made the [Eldorado] in the “Turn It Up” video from scratch. I don’t touch a paintbrush, but he does it all. One time he painted an Impala yellow and put a mural on the hood. It looked like a Skittle.
Are you trying to get it to the point where Fly Rydes paint jobs are a status symbol?
That’s cool to have the little street popularity, but corporate and sponsorship money gets me excited. I’m even doing stuff now where I have car companies that wanna give me a car. I’ll paint it and put Fly Rydes [on it] and give the car away for free with the album as a promotion. I ain’t gonna lie, it used to be like, “Let’s get the ’hood,” but they don’t spend no money. All these little [suburban] kids got allowances, and they come in getting pipes on their cars and all this crazy stuff. I think because of my success as an artist, white kids come by and want to mess with it.
For people interested in owning a shop, how much of an investment is it?
It’s a lot, especially if you’re starting. We got a new $30,000 booth that dries paint automatically. You gotta have that plan where it’s not just about rims and paint. People are coming to us now because we have exclusive horns. Like on my Excursion, you press the horn, and it [sounds] exactly like a train. It’s that loud. If you press it on the freeway, it’ll shake the car in front of you. We don’t try and make a lot of money off of them. We use them to lure you to us.
Why did you give Pimp C the Eldorado from the “Turn It Up” video?
People don’t know Pimp C used to rap about Cadillac Biarritzes. When Pimp C got out, he reached out to me. I was a big fan, and he loved the car. I was thinking in my mind that after the “Turn It Up” video, I was never driving it again. Every time I drive in the city it would be some nervousness ’cause it was on elbows. I like to ride by myself, so at a light I’d see people following me. I worked out a deal with him. It’s not like cash, but he gave me something for it, so to me, it’s money.
Have people been asking about the Impala from the “Ridin’ Dirty” video?
People have been begging me and trying to give me $60,000 or $70,000. I say no because I’m a little attached. But I never drive it [anymore] because people will be on the freeway waving and trying to take a picture on their camera phone while they’re driving. One time it made me so mad, because so many people were trying to catch up to me when I was trying to get over to exit the freeway. I’m on the left lane, and I can’t [get over] because everybody’s riding on the side of me.
Speaking of being upset, didn’t you used to transport urine samples?
Yeah. I had a Honda hatchback with no air conditioning. While everybody was going to parties, I used to work at a medical lab my sophomore and junior year in high school. I had to pick up blood and urine samples, and pap smears. I had a biohazard cooler to keep it cool. It made me look at people differently, though. There were girls I thought were pretty who were pregnant or had herpes.
When you and Paul Wall were in a group together, what were you guys driving?
I had a Honda CRX and after that a Mazda 929. Paul used to be real big on Hondas. Paul’s game was good on cars. He would get money from work and fix it up. He’s the one who put me on to the carbon-fiber interior. Instead of a wood-grain kit, he would get a carbon-fiber kit.
Is it true that he was driving when you guys got in a bad car accident?
Yeah. Paul was driving on the freeway, and there was this big pile-up on the other side. Paul starts pressing the brake and he got hit by an 18-wheeler. He hopped out, but my door was jammed. They were trying to open up my door and get me out. Paul was laughing at me ’cause I was going to therapy, but when I got paid he wanted me to split it with him ’cause it was his car. I don’t drive like that, though. Even if we’re late to the airport, we’re just gonna have to be late. I’ve never gone over 100mph.
You’ve never been over 100mph in any of your cars?
Nope! I respect my life. People used to be in Impalas running from the police, so it’s a real popular car in Houston. I never punch it, but you can tell it’s one of those cars that when you press on the gas, you won’t realize how fast you’re going.
You have a couple of bikes in your collection, but you never ride them.
The vulnerability scares me. Ernest rides them. I’ve sat on it for a picture, but I’ve never ridden a motorcycle. A homie was on a Ninja with his wife, and it was raining a little bit. His back tire went from under him, and they fell off. He messed himself up a little bit, but she died. I also got a homeboy who was hit on a bike, and he messed up his leg.
When’s the last time you got pulled over by the police?
I recently got pulled over going to the airport. [The officer] said, “I’m gonna let you go, but I want you to sign a ticket for me.” It’s like a bragging thing.