By J.H. Tompkins, San Francisco Bay Guardian
An army of rappers has come and gone in the years since 1990, when Paris introduced himself to the world with The Devil Made Me Do It. It was a blistering assault on racial injustice and American hypocrisy, and the lies that keep them alive, and it made Paris a lightning rod for criticism from some quarters and an inspiration to others. Hip-hop changed dramatically in subsequent years, but while musical fashion is a question of taste, facts are stubborn things. You could ask Paris about that; he went on to release three more albums and found a record label, Scarface, all the while battling censorship and refusing to give an inch by softening the cold hard truths about life with Uncle Sugar. He stood up for and spread his beliefs, but without striking a pose – when he grabbed the mic, he entertained and organized. After several years in the spotlight, Paris – who grew up in San Francisco, graduated from UC Davis, and currently lives in the East Bay – stepped back to start a new career as an investment banker. He no longer performed, but a low profile didn't mean that he'd turned his back on music, even as he watched corporate interests devour hip-hop and rappers. If all he ever did was record his first three albums, Paris's impact on hip-hop would have still been impossible to ignore. But in the nearly two years since 9/11, he has been in important ways as active as ever, and arguably more effective. "When you understand what's going on," he said recently, "you have to deal with it, otherwise you know you're part of it, like it or not. I read all the time. I stay on top of what's going on." Some people thought he had left music; others said that his business success meant he had no right to complain. "People are going to say stuff," he said. "I can't do anything about that." In 2001, when domestic opposition to the U.S. jihad was almost nonexistent, Paris reminded the world that he was still around by releasing a single called "What Would You Do?" that ripped into fear-mongers, flag wavers, corporate media, and the ruling elite who jerked the public around like so many puppets. He was pissed and delivered an earful – vintage Paris – but it was more than that. If the world had gotten scarier, Paris was more than ready for it; he'd grown, too. "Bush and everyone acts like they know something that you don't," he said. "They don't. In fact, they're ignorant of the most important things. What they have are big guns. Period." In the months after the release of "What Would You Do," he recorded a full-length album, slated to be released this summer. He also poured his time and energy into the opinionated, fact-filled Guerrilla Funk Recordings Web site (www.guerrillafunk.com), which offers opposition to Bush's international and domestic agenda by reprinting and linking to an ever-changing selection of news and analyses as well as other Web sites. There's also information on Paris's career and the music he's recorded, in addition to news about DVDs like his Aftermath: Unanswered Questions from 9/11, a primer of the war on terrorism. What is most important about Guerrilla Funk is that Paris uses it to reach a community ill-served by other media. "The current political climate is ripe for discussion and dissection right now," Paris said. "People need an alternative in popular media to popular media."