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Controversial Rapper Finally Finds a Label: His Own

By Havelock Nelson, Billboard Magazine

NEW YORK - Political rapper Paris' second album, "Sleeping With The Enemy," finally hit retail racks Nov. 23, following numerous prerelease controversies and aborted releases by Tommy Boy (to which he is still signed), 4th & B'way, and Sex Records, an arm of the Def American label. The title was finally issued on Scarface Records, a San Francisco-based label owned by Paris and distributed independently by INDI.

According to INDI chairman George Hocutt, 200,000 units of the album were shipped to retailers, and sales looked to be "very strong," although it was still very early in the game. On Nov. 24, Hocutt said, "By the end of the week, we'd have a much better feel."

"Sleeping With The Enemy" contains several tracks about black America's problems. Among the set's songs are "Coffee, Donuts And Death," a cop-killing fantasy, and "Bush Killa," which imagines the murder of President Bush.

Tommy Boy, a subsidiary of Warner Bros. Records, was tile first to pass on the album after Warner Music Group chairman Robert Morgado announced last summer, in the wake of the "Cop Killer" controversy, that no Warner label would put out a record with a cover showing the President being stalked by a killer. Morgado also expressed displeasure with some of Paris' lyrics. According to a Nov. 24 Tommy Boy statement, "Tommy Boy has returned Paris' album 'Sleeping With The Enemy' to him for independent release. Although we may not agree with everything Paris says all his album, we believe it is important for the artist to have his work heard as he intended it to be heard."

Island Records' independently distributed subsidiary, 4th & B'way, picked up Paris' album and scheduled its release only two weeks before the Presidential election. But, according to Island president Chris Blackwell, PolyGram, which owns Island, also objected to the lyrics: "PolyGram Music Publishing was approached about a publishing deal for the songs on the album," notes Blackwell. "PolyGram's legal department in London reviewed the lyrics and, in a memo to PolyGram [CEO] Alain Levy, expressed grave doubts about the legality of many of the songs on the album, adding, 'the strict legalities apart, we have to be sensitive about the current political climate in the United States, in particular, the Ice-T experience.' "

After he struck out at Tommy Boy and 4th & B'way, Paris said, Def American principal Rick Rubin approached him about releasing the album on his Sex label. But, according to Paris, Rubin was overruled by his distributor, Warner Bros. Records.

Paris still had one other option: to put out the album on his own label. He said he was able to form that label because of a settlement he received from the Warner Music Group.

"The one good thing that has come out of this is that Warner Music paid me damages for having held up the release of the record," he said at a Nov. 24 press conference here. That money-a "significant amount in the six-figure range," he said-put Paris in business.

Morgado, Levy, and Rubin were all unavailable for comment.


Paris told Billboard he has been influenced by the black nationalist ideologies of the Black Panther Party and the Nation of Islam. But, at the press conference, he said, "I want to make it clear that I am not an assassin and that 'Bush Killa' is not an assassination attempt." At the same briefing, Marjorie Heins, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's arts censorship project, defended Paris' hip-hop narrative by quoting federal law and several court decisions. Among them was "U.S. v. Watts" (1969), in which the Supreme Court "rejected an attempt to prosecute a protestor for threatening the life of the President when he used 'political hyperbole' in a discussion about police brutality."

Heins added the narrator of "Bush Killa" attributes his actions to "Reagan-Bush policies that have blocked African-Americans' civil-rights gains and encouraged racism in this country."

In his own defense, Paris cited statistics to support the argument that blacks are more endangered than dangerous. (Before the press conference he asked, "Whose record is scarier! Mine or Bush's?").

And, during a Billboard interview, he begged for listeners and potential adversaries to understand the concept of literal vs. literate. "I think this is actually a much safer way to go about venting my frustration and anger than to actually pick up a gun and shoot the President," he said. "I think people should be grateful for that. I don't think this is gonna influence people in any kind of negative way. In fact, I think the converse is true."

Not surprisingly, Paris voted for Bill Clinton in the recent national election. "I just hope he never gives me reason to write 'Clinton Killer,' " he mused.

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