By Terbo Ted, BetterPropaganda.com
Rapper Paris is one impressive cat. Sure, he's got some widely acclaimed albums out over the past ten years, but he's also a shrewd businessman, an adept political commentator, and trying to do the right thing with his label Guerrilla Funk, including producing and releasing an all-new Public Enemy album. I was able to chase him down via his publicist in Beverly Hills, who hooked me up with Paris' cell phone number and an appointment for a phone interview upon his return from an extended trip in Europe.
Better Propaganda Editor Terbo Ted talks to Paris.
Better Propaganda: Normally, when I start an interview...
Better Propaganda: I'll ask the artist to describe themselves and their body of work in their own words. But in this case, you know, I'm just going to point out it's 9 am, and here I am, you know, calling you on your cell phone for a scheduled interview...
Better Propaganda: ...and I've never interviewed a musician at 9 am before. I mean, whatever happened to "this party goes till 8 in the morning?"
P: Oh, man (laughter), that's not my life.
Better Propaganda: It's not your life?
P: I get up hella early man, because I got to deal with people overseas, and I gotta deal with global money in these markets, there's a lot of shit I've got going on, it's not just really music-related.
Better Propaganda: Your friends always say you're an exception in every case. They always talk about your work as a businessman.
P: That may be the case, I'm not sure. I'm sure there are a lot of other people who do music that have other irons in the fire too. I mean, it's getting to the point now where you have to have something else going on, you know, a lot of people... you can't rely on music to pay your bills specifically. I mean, music has been very good to me, but there are other things I have to stay on top of. I can't rely on whether or not somebody likes me to eat. (laughter) I have a lot of other things going on at the same time, but I never lose my focus with hip-hop, and try to stay as on point as possible with the message.
Better Propaganda: Can you briefly describe your business interests? The kinda stuff you're doing with your work, outside of just music?
P: Well, I'm actually about to embark on this venture to build low-cost, low-income housing.
Better Propaganda: Wow.
P: And, um, gonna be starting outside of Sac at first. Really there's no real land out here that's affordable to build on, and the price to build per square foot outside of Sacramento is below $100 a square foot, and down here in the Tri-Valley area, it's like $220 a square foot, so, that's the next thing that I'm doing, because there's no low-cost housing available in California that's NICE. I'm going to do my part to turn that around a little bit, you know, and make some change at the same time. So, I see what's happening. I mean, real estate, that has been the lynchpin of the economy, really the economy in the nation, but especially in Cali, after this tech implosion. So, just trying to find out what's next.
Better Propaganda: So that's pretty impressive for a musician. I mean, a lot of independent musicians just sort of, uh, struggle along from release to release. And, you're taking some pretty active roles in your community and as a businessman. I want to get back to the music though...
Better Propaganda: You just got a bunch of digitally remastered reissues coming out, they just re-released Sleeping With The Enemy, The Devil Made Me Do It, and so on.
Better Propaganda: That seems like a pretty smart business move, to keep your catalog going.
P: Yeah, I mean, for me, it's more for archival purposes. But there are a lot of people who haven't heard my earlier material that were turned on by Sonic Jihad. And, it was a way for me to go back and tighten up some loose ends on those albums, and ... update the artwork, and present and preserve the catalog. So, it was almost a logical step for me.
Better Propaganda: Alright. You were just in Europe on tour, right?
P: Yeah, I just got back.
Better Propaganda: You probably talked a lot of politics over there. What are people saying over there about the United States?
P: Same shit you are. (laughter) I mean, you know, ...for whatever reason, people are not blinded to the ways of our government over there like they are over here. There's much less propaganda involved. A lot of the news organizations abroad are straight shooters, as opposed to the rose-colored glasses our news media tends to look at the Bush Administration with. Also, you have to keep in mind that if you're outside of the United States and you're not Great Britain chances are- and you're not Israel, chances are- you're going through it, as a result of the United States. A lot of people are well aware of the vicious, tendencies and policies of our Administration. People don't hate America - although people do view the American public as being ignorant overall - people don't hate America, they hate the government and the way it goes about things though. Which is the same with more than half of the people here.
Better Propaganda: So it was recently reported in the mainstream media that both President George Bush and his apparent challenger John Kerry, were both in Yale Skull and Bones fraternity at the same time.
Better Propaganda: What are your comments on that?
P: Well, you know, I'm always trying to get straight to the point, to the core of what's going on. And that's why a lot of people like to dismiss me as having conspiracy theories, but that's something that needs to be looked at. Also, look at the fact that Dean was the only challenger that fired up the public that was outside of that inner circle.
Better Propaganda: And he was still from Yale.
P: Yeah, but he was not a part of that secret society situation and was pretty vehemently opposed to a lot of Bush Administration policies. And he was just defective in the media and taken down. And now we see Kerry is the front runner right now. They come from similar backgrounds... (deep breath) We have this electronic voting shit that's now in effect. The latest AP poll is saying that they're running neck and neck. Right.
Better Propaganda: Mm-hmm.
P: They have the re-introduction of Ralph Nader, who's probably a GOP operative at this point. And you see- in all this shit that's going on- it's looking like they're setting it up for confusion, in the same way, there was confusion around the 2000 election. So it's going to be interesting to see how galvanized people are to come out and vote against Bush. See, the one thing that's different between the GOP and people who champion the conservative agenda, and people on the other side of the fence, is that there is only one choice for them. They get behind their candidate, and they ride for him, and they come out in force to vote. And the only real alternative to somebody like Bush is somebody even worse than Bush on the GOP side, somebody that's even more right- Pat Buchanan or something like that- that's why they only get traditionally get one percent of the vote or something. But the majority of the GOP gets behind their candidate. Now, on the other side of the fence, there are all kinds of choices for alternatives, and that serves to splinter the vote for people who are in opposition to the GOP. And therein lies the danger, so I'm hoping that people can realize that- and no matter what you say about Kerry, and what you say about Democrats- they are still better than the GOP, all bullshit aside. Even down to Supreme Court nominations, there's much less of a culture of exclusion in, and much less of a culture of intolerance, on the side of Democrats as opposed to the GOP. So, looking at it from that standpoint, if I have to choose one of the two- and it is a choice between one of the two, even though people would argue that point, that there are other alternatives- there aren't other viable alternatives. It's almost the equivalent of people saying they want an armed revolution. I mean, who wants an armed revolution? When I hear motherfuckers talking about "why vote?" and "revolution now" and "overthrow the system" and all that is a bunch of bullshit that sounds cool to say, but if you don't have a viable alternative to what exists, then don't do that.
Better Propaganda: Mm-hmm.
P: You have to have the will of the people behind you to have an armed revolution. You have to have the will of the people to have a communist or socialist system. And 99 percent of the people here don't want that.
Better Propaganda: Right.
P: You know, that's just the cold, hard reality of it. So what do I do? I take this bullshit capitalist system, I take these bullshit companies, and, I play 'em, and I can extract money out of them and make other things go down. I mean, nobody would give a shit about me if I didn't make the kind of music I make. Who gives a fuck about my opinions, or anybody else's opinions, unless they're validated by something that has to do with entertainment? (laughter)
Better Propaganda: Well, I want to talk to you about that specifically. Because we've got, you know, very many strong decades of tradition of American singer-songwriters saying some real heavy political things.
Better Propaganda: I mean, your work with today's conscious hip-hop goes directly back through Chuck D, and it goes back through people like Bob Dylan and Woody Gutherie, and yet we're always seeing people in the media trying to discredit musicians from having political opinions, even though it seems to be okay with the media that an actor is Governor. What are your comments on that, to people that are trying to tear someone like you down for political views when you're only a musician, what would you tell them?
P: Well, you said it right there. I mean, when it comes to them, anything goes. I think that if people with a progressive agenda want to make a splash in politics, they need to have Martin Sheen running for President. That'll fuck up the whole game right there (laughter) because people (laughter), in their entertainment stupor, already view him as being a president... And he's been politically active, on the right side of things for a long time. He's probably not stupid enough to go for that. (laughter) I mean, that's what it would take.
But, as far as someone saying, what are my qualifications, I got a college degree too. I got a degree in managerial economics. So, if you want to remove "entertainment" from the equation, I'm as qualified as anybody else to assess things. And when I'm talking to some of these talking heads, or I hear some comments of people like Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity, or even Ann Coulter, or some of these people, they oftentimes don't have the education that I have, so they don't know what the fuck they're talking about.
Better Propaganda: Have you ever considered running for office...
Better Propaganda: ...at some point?
P: I had some people trying to get me to run for mayor of Oakland, but I don't live in Oakland.
Better Propaganda: Uh-huh.
P: And I don't think so man.
Better Propaganda: And both the final candidates for the mayor of San Francisco were your age this time...
P: Say again?
Better Propaganda: Both the guys that ran for mayor in the final run-off election, Gavin Newsom and Matt Gonzalez, are your age pretty much.
P: Yeah, yeah, that's right.
Better Propaganda: I'd like to get your comments on media censorship right now. You've spoken quite a bit about that. And like we're seeing like the FCC going after Howard Stern, and you know, Clear Channel's using the excuse of the public crying out for more media decency after Janet Jackson's nipple got shown on television, I mean, what are your thoughts on all this censorship game being played right now with these big companies?
P: You know, it's just the same, it's a carbon copy of a decade ago, when the 92 elections were going down, and you know, you had all these people talking about Ice-T and "Cop Killer" and even "Bush Killa" back then off Sleeping With The Enemy, and it's the same climate. Dan Quayle and Tipper Gore, and all these people going after what they view as being indecent for political gain, and we see the same thing now. You know, it's more dangerous now, because there are fewer outlets for people with independent voices to be heard on a mass level. I mean, Clear Channel and I just went to war. This little bitch, Michael Martin, over at KMEL- who programs twenty-two stations- we almost got in a fistfight...
Better Propaganda: Wow.
P: At KMEL when I was on the morning show with Chuy. And he came in talking shit, and basically, he had to bow down, and ran and locked himself in the office and called the police.
Better Propaganda: (laughter)
P: And I could just... man I don't give a fuck about what they're talking about because everything has to do with selective morality.
Better Propaganda: Right.
P: And when I say selective morality, I'm saying, why does it take something as unimportant as somebody's titty on TV, for people to get galvanized in opposition to what they view as being indecent. When they're not angered by the illegal wars, or the pro-Bush rallies, pro-war sponsorship by Clear Channel, or they're not mad at the 99 percent of the negative programming that they exhibit, and the repetitive, payola-induced shit that they play on the radio 24/7. They're not mad at "I'm a motherfucking pimp and I shoot niggers and fuck bitches" and all that, and you know, "let's get drunk and fuck" and all this shit that they play on repeatedly...
Better Propaganda: Don't you think there's a conscious effort to portray the African-American male as that crotch-grabbing player guy, and not as some intelligent lyricist? I mean, conscious hip-hop seems to be like the essence of the music going through the area where we live, and yet, none of it's in the mainstream, why?
P: Well, first of all, I do agree with you on that. And, I question a lot of people's artistic integrity, because if labels came out all of a sudden and said that they weren't going to endorse that kind of shit anymore and that they would only get behind material that is good for the progression of positive change in the community, then 99 percent of the artists out there would switch, because they would adapt to what they believe labels are now looking for.
Better Propaganda: Right.
P: So, first of all, I treat a lot of these artists like children, because a lot of times they don't know any better. And, you know, it's cute to have a potty mouth, and say shit that they think pushes the envelope, but... (pause)
In response to your question, yeah, I do, I do think there's a concerted effort to only put out a certain type of material and to choose certain- what they view as non-threatening- material over other material. Although- you know- a lot of the shit that these cats are talking about on the record now is threatening to the community.
Better Propaganda: Right.
P: And you see a direct cause and effect relationship between what goes on in the community, and the influence that hip-hop exerts over the community, and the music that's being played.
Better Propaganda: If you were able to lift our vision a little bit, and point out some music that's effectively putting political messages in it right now, in 2004, what would you have us listen to?
P: Shit man, I don't listen to much. New things. There are plenty of hip-hop artists that... The sad part is, you're almost deemed "socially conscious" by NOT doing a certain type of thing, it's that bad. It's to the point now, where if you're not talking about shooting somebody in the face, or raping a nun, or eating a baby's face- or whatever the fuck these motherfuckers talk about- if you're not talking about that kind of shit, then they look at you as being socially conscious because you don't participate in that. So, there are groups that I could tell you that, you know, that make solid hip-hop that AVOID that, that probably wouldn't want that label of being known as conscious artists.
Better Propaganda: How would you define the conscious hip-hop then, simply? What does that mean?
P: To me... yeah, you know, it's something that pigeonholes you. Because, even in my mind, when you say "conscious hip-hop," I think of a bunch of cats standing around in a circle with backpacks on, freestylin' and shit, and that, or spray painting on something, or spinning on their head, none of that shit has ever had anything to do with where I'm coming from. (laughter) You know. It's like... and that's not dissing that section of the hip-hop culture, that's just saying that's not what I represent. Although my whole angle has always been to provide the listener with an ultra-polished product, that's able to stand up next to the best gangster rap, with messages that are 180 degrees from that.
Better Propaganda: And you're definitely doing that very well. Tell me about your plans for the rest of this year.
P: Aw man, I got a lot of shit on deck. Well, the expansion of Guerrilla Funk. There's a lot of artists that I will be working with, that I'm currently involved with. I got a Public Enemy album that I'm producing that's going to be released on Guerilla Funk...
Better Propaganda: Wow.
P: I've been talking with Boots from The Coup, he's involved with this project that I'm working on, a compilation series that I have coming out called Hard Truth Soldiers, which has The Coup, and Dead Prez, and Public Enemy, and Kam, and ...the Conscious Daughters, there are hella people that are on there, MC Ren, a lot of people on there, who want to see positive change come about in the community, and who are disgusted with the state of hip-hop as it exists.