During his graduation ceremony in front of the UT Tower, Adam Neal looked back on his life as a convict and saw how far he had come. In that moment, Neal knew what his first rap single would be titled: “Tower to Tower.”
Known professionally as SaulPaul, UT alumnus Neal was raised in Houston by his soft-hearted grandmother. Although he did well in high school and earned an academic scholarship, his reckless attitude was amplified when Neal’s grandmother passed away during his senior year of high school.
“The artist in me saw that as symbolic,” Neal said. “The one person in the world that loved me, she’s no longer around. I felt like it was me against the world, and I started making bad choices.”
Neal entered UT without a major, and didn’t get the chance to pick a degree plan. During his first stint at the University, Neal “partied like a rock star,” flunked out of school and was put on academic probation. While on probation, he was convicted of four felonies and incarcerated in the Texas State Penitentiary.
“God gave me all of this talent and saw what I was doing with it,” Neal said. “[Jail] wasn’t even a punishment — it was what my choices added up to. I got to the point where I decided to do more with my life. I decided not only to be successful, but to empower others to succeed.”
After serving two years, Neal worked in a Houston factory for six dollars an hour to make his way back to college. It was during his time there that Neal said he discovered and learned about his true passion — rap music.
“We all [freestyled] for play, but there was something different when I did it,” Neal said. “In the midst of writing [my first] song, something clicked. And in that moment I realized I might have been born to do this.”
After earning enough money to enroll in school, Neal returned to UT, but still didn’t know what discipline to pursue. Othell Ballage, the College of Liberal Arts academic advising coordinator at the time, helped him make the decision to major in radio-television-film.
Ballage met Neal when he came off of academic probation in 1999, but wasn’t initially aware of his circumstances.
“When I saw him, all I saw was a student coming back off of dismissal,” Ballage said. “He developed enough trust in me to tell me his past, and I was so surprised. But he doesn’t hide from his past — he learns from it.”
Ballage helped Neal convert his love of music videos into a career. In 2002, Neal graduated with honors and a degree in radio-television-film. After graduation, Neal adopted the moniker SaulPaul and started making freestyle music by blending his vocals and guitar with loop pedals.
Today, SaulPaul continues to write about his personal journey on his most recent album, Dream in 3D, which was released June 12, Austin’s official SaulPaul Day. With Neal’s success, he has maintained a humble persona, seeing music as a medium to give back to the community.
Texas Hip-Hop Producer of the Year Levester White, who produced SaulPaul’s first single, said he believes in his friend’s ability to inspire, citing Neal’s kindness to White’s foster children through countless visits and his position as their role model.
“Our sound was created through our kindred spirit and our love for Texas music style,” White said. “He uses his story to impact people — he has a real heart, providing inspiration for people to better themselves, he’s truly the people’s champion.”
In 2002, Neal created ReRoute, an outreach program that works to empower underserved youth by providing them with creative outlets, whether that be through music or other passions.
“I used my education at UT the second time around to polish my skills and work toward the life I’m living right now,” Neal said. “Traveling the world and making music is a dream, but being incarcerated made me sit still against my will. It forced me to think, and I discovered what my gifts and talents were — working to inspire and help people.”