By Chris Rolls, MP3.com
Radical Bay Area rapper Paris takes time to speak about institutional racism, fast-food entertainment, Public Enemy, and the importance of his label, Guerrilla Funk.
Chris: I was just reviewing your site, and I had some questions that I wanted to fire off but something kind of jumped in front here. I noticed your page on Crack the CIA with Michael Ruppert. Are you a fan of fromthewilderness.com?
Paris: You know, there are certain things that we agree on. All of what he talks about, I'm not up on--I don't know what exactly he represents across the board, but in terms of the CIA's crack-introduction to communities of color, I'm definitely on that page.
Chris: OK. I had just recently read his Crossing the Rubicon on peak-oil theory.
Paris: Yeah, that's actually about to get added to our suggested-reading list.
Chris: Oh good.
Chris: Well I have some questions like that later, but I'd like to talk to you about the Public Enemy album.
Paris: All right.
Chris: So you are, in fact, releasing Rebirth of a Nation on Guerrilla Funk.
Chris: How did you come to work with PE initially?
Paris: Well, when I first started, my career was really my first introduction to them, we collaborated on a video project called "Anti-Nigga Machine," which was on their, I think, it was A Fear of a Black Planet album, which was in '90...
Chris: '91, I think.
Paris: Something like that, yeah.
Paris: And Chuck and I have obviously moved in the same circles because of what we talk about, but we had never officially got down on a record together until 2002 I think, which was that Revolverlution album. And I did have a guest verse on there for them, with the understanding that they would do a guest verse on my Sonic Jihad album the following year, which they did. And I approached Chuck at KPFA radio out here while he was out here doing some promotions and told him I would be interested in releasing a Public Enemy album in full on Guerrilla Funk but only if I could produce it. I told him I wanted to produce a Public Enemy album on my own, and he was with it, and he said go ahead and get started on it, and one thing led to another, and here we are.
Chris: I was listening to some of the tracks that you have available online today, and they definitely have a very, sort of older Public Enemy feel to them.
Chris: Was that a driving concept for this album?
Paris: Well this album...really, the approach that I took was to definitely do my best to capture what I love best about classic Public Enemy. And they're a very experimental group, in that every one of their releases, for the most part, sounds different, and they're definitely much more on the rock page now than they used to be in the past. And this one is a kind of return to the funk and the soulful black-guitar rock, or roots that they had back when they released their first two or three albums.
Chris: Their first...well yeah, their first three albums in particular really represent an era of hip-hop culture that seems to have placed political thought and literacy and social observation in the forefront, and it seems today that kids are really being force-fed materialism. What do you think we can learn from the commercialization of hip-hop culture?
Paris: Well it's...you know, you can pretty much paint by numbers and see that it is a carbon copy of the way Jazz was done. And really, with the establishment of Guerrilla Funk, what I'm trying to do is to provide an alternative to what you are given every day by commercial outlets, you know, by the Viacoms and the Clear Channels and the Def Jams and Interscopes and what not. They all pretty much focus on a specific demographic, which keeps hip-hop artificially young, and they focus on a particular type of message, which is not a message of empowerment. And so I don't really make an effort to change that, because that's almost like asking for freedom. I take...the approach that we put forth is to take our own freedom by providing a viable alternative that people can get into, that is presented in the same way, that has the same production values as a lot of what's offered to the general public, but with a message that's 180 degrees removed.
Chris: Do you find it difficult to navigate these waters that are currently dominated by very centralized and--?
Paris: Yeah let me tell you some scandalous s*** that happened. Just yesterday, this pretty much should let you know what I'm up against, doing what I do because you know when you choose the right road, it's always the more difficult road for whatever reason, right?
Paris: I did these 30-second commercials, television-commercial ads, that are set to run starting tomorrow on...and I don't want to date your interview, but the information is still relevant...starting tomorrow on VH1, on three different MTV channels, and on BET.
Chris: So, those are all Viacom.
Paris: Right, now check this out. So I deliver the spot, which is a Rebirth of a Nation ad, and at the end, it tags Hard Truth Soldiers and T-K.A.S.H., which are two additional projects that I'm piggybacking on the ad campaign for Public Enemy. So I get an e-mail from the content director at Viacom yesterday who told me that the ad was rejected because the T-K.A.S.H.-album artwork glorified violence.
Chris: This is the Turf War Syndrome album?
Paris: Right, exactly. And I go s*** OK, well, you know that's not a battle I can win, so f*** it, I had to do what I had to do, and I adjust accordingly. She said, yes, it's not cleared to be aired on VH1 or any of the MTV channels, but BET was cleared. And I'm like, so it's violent, it's glorifying violence, but it's still cleared for BET is what you're telling me. That's the kind of s*** that I'm going up against, so it's definitely a concerted effort to infuse negativity into our communities, and the only way that I could look at it would be that way.
Chris: So even if you're spending cash on advertising, you're being subjected to institutional racism at Viacom.
Paris: Yeah. I mean, how else can I take that?
Chris: Ah, there are very few other ways you can take it.
Paris: You know, OK, well the negativity is OK for black entertainment television, which isn't really black entertainment television, but for all intents and purposes, from the outside looking in, it is. The violence...the assumed negativity is cool for them, but it's not cool for VH1 and MTV, so that was bothersome. But you know, I adjusted and moved forward, and that's another...that's a battle I'll address later. But that...it's the same with radio--there's definitely an effort to suppress voices of the decent and to not allow inappropriate balance in music when it's being presented to the masses. I mean, the labels want the lowest common denominator, they want to keep it young, and they want to keep simple and silly and nonthought-provoking. Because those standards are in place, you see a lot of artists who have questionable skills and really are kind of corporate-made entities that exist just solely for the sake of selling commodities, you know, selling cell phones and cars and hamburgers and s***, you know, and it's not really something that is true to the art form. It's kind of like "the emperor has no clothes."
Chris: Exactly. Another person who seems to share your opinions is Immortal Technique.
Chris: And I noticed that he is on Rebirth of a Nation.
Chris: How did you connect with Immortal Technique?
Paris: I met Immortal Technique through Davey D, who's a prominent hip-hop journalist in the Bay Area. Well, you're in the Bay area, aren't you?
Chris: San Francisco.
Paris: Yeah OK, so Davey D, who's definitely not only my good friend but a strong supporter and ally of hip-hop...I met Immortal Technique through him. And, you know, we share a lot of the same viewpoints on a lot of things, and I said, "Man, you know, I'd love to have you get down and partake in this shine that I know this PE project is going to get," and he was with it.
Chris: I'm a big fan of his Revolutionary Volume 2, and on that particular album, the track "4th Branch," well obviously, it's an attack on corporate-owned media. Do you think it's frightening that most of America are completely unaware or just disinterested in corporate-owned media and the effects it has on our everyday life?
Paris: If they were unaware of it, it wouldn't be as bothersome to me as the lack of interest that you just referred to. It's one thing for you not to be aware of it, and then you get turned onto it, and you're like, wait I just f***** up, wait a minute, man, what can we do to change this? And then it's another thing altogether if you were told a lot of the inequalities and wrongdoings that occur, and you don't care. And I think there is...there's definitely a certain amount of that that we're trying to counteract.
There's...a lot of people don't care, you know, you live in the times of like American Idol and fast-food entertainment and fast-food news--really, it's difficult to counteract that...people have such a short attention span and they want instant gratification with everything. And, you know, I don't really take a slow-burn approach to what we do, but I definitely want it to have a shelf life, and I want it to withstand the test of time. And a lot of these records, and a lot of the entertainment choices that we're being presented is not going to stand up to the test of time because very little effort is put into it, and a lot of it has to do with trend-chasing. So, our approach is radically different at Guerrilla Funk.
Chris: It seems to be, and in fact, the label Web site offers so much more than just simply a promotion of the music that you release.
Chris: It's incredibly informative...
Paris: Thank you.
Chris: And it offers thought-provoking essays and news, and I noticed today, in fact, that there's a great column that you penned titled "Black on Black Violence: Real Talk."
Chris: Well, in that article you state that angry, black men without focus aren't a threat to anyone but themselves and have become the targets of ridicule by those outside of our communities.
Chris: What is your vision--how do you propose that young, black youth fight systemic racism, in particular, what they're being fed through the music industry?
Paris: The key to success for everybody trying to better their condition is education, be it formal or otherwise. The more you know about what's going on, the better equipped you will be to become upwardly mobile. And everything that is set in place right now is set in place to thwart education and to thwart awareness. You look at, for example, you're in the Bay Area, you look at the condition of the public-school system...look at Oakland public-school system. You know, we've got money falling out the coffer for s*** that doesn't matter, but there's always some kind of a budget shortfall in Oakland public-school system. And in Richmond, look at the homicide rate. Where is the lotto money going? S*** that was supposed to go toward education. And all these questions remain unanswered, and people become frustrated, and they become disillusioned with things when conditions are repeatedly bad and they never get fixed and never get addressed.
And so I say education is the best way out. A lot of people say, well you know, especially in the black community, it's not something that is given the appropriate amount of focus, and it's not stressed as much as it should be by so many of us, and it's almost a victim-like mentality that a lot of us adopt, where we believe that out of the gate that we can only go so far, and we live up to the expectations that have been put forth on us a lot of times. And so when you get negativity that's in movies and on television, and that is definitely reinforced in popular entertainment like hip-hop, not only glorifying ghetto life, but basically not ever providing an alternative in...that's when you get a toxic outcome, and that's what we have right now. Hip-hop music is more influential than parents in many instances--definitely more influential than religion and the church--and it's more influential than teachers, and it's more influential than politicians. And I come from an era where me, you know, Boogie Down Productions, X-Clan, Queen Latifah, when the negativity was the exception to the rule in hip-hop. And so you have a generation, my generation, this particular hip-hop generation that I represent, which is slightly older than what the target demographic is for Clear Channel, et cetera, that will look at this current generation like m***** f****** are speaking some kind of foreign language--we don't understand it. I mean, we empathize with it, and we definitely know that the (indiscernible) in place to be able to continually port forth negativity, but we don't buy into it. And there's a handful of us that do what we can to undo it.
Chris: I'm a little bit older myself, and I come from the era that you speak of, that was the era when I was introduced to hip-hop culture. And it seems that there was a...well, personally for me, it was around '85, and then you see around a decade later in '95, you really see a shift in what was being presented to people.
Paris: Which is amazing to me, because with every other genre, people...the older generation, they're the ones with the disposable income. S***, Rolling Stones tickets are how much per show?
Chris: A hundred dollars.
Paris: More, they're like $250 or something, you know.
Paris: I heard like as high as $1,500 if you want the select seats. You know, so when you really get to the year where the getting is good, man, there's nothing... there are no offerings in place for people who have grown and matured and who demand more from their entertainment. So, hopefully, Guerrilla Funk will fill that void. Not saying that it's the old-folks' label, you know, we're just saying that there's an alternative to "Laffy Taffy" and the bulls*** that we're being offered elsewhere.
Chris: You've always been very truthful in your music and presented a wonderful alternative to "Laffy Taffy." Obviously, the song "Bush Killa," well, I'm going to assume it probably put you on an FBI watch list.
Chris: Admirably, you've not diluted any of your strong antigovernment content over the years. I have to ask, do you ever have to watch over your shoulder?
Paris: I mean not really because you've got to keep in mind that more than half of the population of this country is on the same page.
Chris: But that's not really communicated out to the general population.
Paris: Yeah, I mean, and that's why it boggles my mind when I come across people who are fearful of what the consequences may be. I say, man, the majority of this country feels this way--it's just not alluded to on the news networks that are controlled by the interest of the corporate elite. So when you're watching MSNBC or you're watching FOX News in particular, and you know they're lulling us to sleep 24 hours a day, seven days a week by reiterating the Bush-administration party line, then it's easy to fall into that trap if you're an average American who has a nine-to-five job, who works every day, who has a blue-collar job, more often than not who comes home, and doesn't read, and turns on the TV, and gets their information from that source, well, you know, it's difficult to undo that. But a good head start is by reclaiming our entertainment choices, and entertainment is something that people want to be a part of. It amazes me how people say that they're not political, and they don't want to actively partake in anything politically or socially aware, because that's being forced on you anyway--everything that you see on TV is politics. You know, politics is entertainment now. FOX News is an entertainment network--it's not a news channel, it's a channel that reflects opinions.
Chris: Speaking of reflecting opinions, I'm curious about the volume one of the current compilation that you have--or coming--out, Hard Truth Soldiers.
Chris: Quite an impressive line up here on the record.
Paris: Thank you, yes, I'm really proud of that. I think that you know, again Guerrilla Funk...well, first of all, go ahead, continue with your question, sorry.
Chris: Oh, well I was just going to say some of us here were very pleased to see the Conscious Daughters and Kam on the record. You seem to really have loyalty to artists on your label. Do you feel that that's imperative in running a label?
Paris: Well, you know, I'm loyal to artists and to people who are loyal to me and to themselves and to what it is we're attempting to accomplish. You know, if Kam would have flipped the script and started doing negative s***, or if the Conscious Daughters could no longer be relied upon to bring what they bring to the table, then I would have an issue with them. But I know how difficult it is. Like, for example, like with a group that has sold an incredible amount of records like Dead Prez, who can't find a label and can't be down with a major label because of what they represent. Like Columbia they...you know they went their separate ways with Columbia, well these are viable acts that are saying relevant things that have to have a home that they can come to that's on par with being able to operate on a major level and be heard.
And it just...it boggles my mind, man, that these companies that are in place, that have a global reach, that are able to put out music effortlessly and reward those of us who do it well, neglect to do the right thing repeatedly. So that's why...again, why we exist. And Kam has an album that's forthcoming on Guerrilla Funk, as do the Conscious Daughters, and I sat down not too long ago and tried to think of the girl groups that exist now, the female groups that exist now, that are doing hip-hop, no matter what kind of hip-hop, be it party music or gangster music or whatever, and I could not name one female group in existence. And that's why I know that they are extremely important because there's no balance at all. I can think of females that are down with existing crews like G-Unit and s*** like that but no existing, empowered-female-group anything, let alone saying anything of relevance.
Chris: Yeah it seems that most of the women entertainers, especially in hip-hop culture, probably have very little to offer the young women.
Paris: Well, I know they could if time is taken to foster creative thought and to nurture their careers, and that just doesn't exist. Most female entertainers are window-dressing for male entertainers, which is sad but true.
Paris: In hip-hop anyway.
Chris: Well, arguably, in most popular music. The Hard Truth Soldiers, how did this project come about?
Paris: Well, you know, it's just coming across artists with material over and over and over again that don't have an outlet. And there are some new...several newcomers that exist on there, like UNO the Prophet, and Truth Universal, and Sun Rise Above, who are all Guerrilla Funk artists that have projects forthcoming. But in this retail environment, it's extremely difficult to break new acts. If you go into Tower Records or Best Buy or any major retailer and look at the rap section, it's ridiculous, I mean, there's so much choice being offered that I almost feel as though music is being devalued, and it's difficult to break something out of the pack. And it's gotten to a point where retail is extremely reluctant to even order or support new acts because there's such a glut in the marketplace. And so, really, this is a way to have a cohesive project that introduces some of the newcomers alongside with some of the veterans, where everybody is on the same page in the fight for social justice. So that's really, you know, the...why it exists this way, and it's the first in a series of volumes that are forthcoming.
Chris: How do you avoid embedded corporate distribution? Say, if somebody out there like yourself, a like-minded person, was interested in putting out socially conscious music independently, how would you advise someone to avoid the sort of stranglehold on distribution that corporations have?
Paris: Well, sometimes it makes sense to go that route. You know, it all depends on the terms--it all depends on what's spelled out in black and white out of the gate. You know, I don't really have any content restrictions, because it's my label. The distribution is a Major Indy...it's Major Indy distribution, but it's Major manufacturing, and it's through Major channels, so it's really the best of both worlds.
As far as starting...I don't even know...I don't even know if I would do it if I was trying to start now, honestly. I was a beneficiary of Warner Music money when I first started with Tommy Boy and then the beneficiary of a major independent, Priority Records, later in my career, and so I was always able to have marketing money behind me that was somebody else's. So when it came time for me to become completely independent, it wasn't a difficult sell, because I already have a tremendous amount of units sold under my belt, and a lot of people know of me. So that's completely different than somebody, say like Immortal Technique, who are starting completely from scratch, who is completely independent on an independent label trying to make a way for himself-- a name for himself.
Chris: You said that you've sold a lot, and you have--my understanding is that it's over some 4 million records.
Paris: Yeah, it's up there.
Chris: Does that...does that give you hope, hope that people are actively seeking out intelligent and thought-provoking music?
Paris: Well what's disturbing about it is that you have to actively seek it out--as opposed to having it side by side with everything else the way that it used to be. See, the way hip-hop used to be, you could hear me next to Hammer, next to Too Short, next to Digital Underground, and everybody or whoever was out at the time, and it was all completely different acts coming from completely different walks of life. You know, you could hear a Paris record and a Will Smith record side by side, and nobody would trip because it was all hip-hop, and everything hip-hop was embraced. Now, there's just one facet of hip-hop that's being focused on, which is this pimp-gangster refrain that gets repeated over and over and over again and endorsed and rewarded by Majors, and that's the main difference.
Chris: How do you see a leveling of the playing field actually occurring? Do you see a day occurring when somebody could go into a Best Buy and they would see a Dead Prez end-cap right next to a 50 Cent display?
Paris: Well, you're about to see, all Guerrilla Funk s*** is end-capped in Best Buy.
Chris: Is it?
Paris: So it's here, yeah. I mean, I am definitely bulldozing at retail. I have Target, Best Buy, Target Circular, Best Buy Circular, Circuit City, Wal-Mart, everything, I mean, so Guerrilla Funk is that viable alternative now.
Chris: Have you run into...well, you mentioned earlier your issues with Viacom, but with these major outlets, have you run into any censorship issues?
Chris: Does that surprise you?
Paris: It doesn't surprise me, because there's nothing blatantly offensive in anything that's being put forth.
Chris: There's no "Bush Killa" on there?
Paris: No. I mean, I did with Sonic Jihad, you know, I had an airplane crashing into the White House--well s***, you can do the math with that one. But as far as, like, the Hard Truth Soldiers compilation...you would be surprised at how much the climate has changed, even since Sonic Jihad came out in 2003. Well, you know three more years of Bush malfeasance has brought about a change in direction for many, many people. You know, you can't have approval ratings in the 30s and s*** and expect your opinion to be majority anymore. And there are plenty of people who are on the same page that I'm on, and they think that my tactics are a little brash, but they're necessary.
Chris: OK, what else do you have planned for this year for Guerrilla Funk?
Paris: Kam's album, the new Dead Prez project, and the Conscious Daughters.
Chris: The Dead Prez, is that a full-length album?
Paris: It's Stickman's solo project.
Chris: And you are involved with The Coup, correct?
Paris: T-K.A.S.H. comes out on March 21. So really, what I'm focusing on is three full-length albums a quarter, with no albums released in the fourth quarter. So nine projects a year is what I would like to shoot for.
Chris: That's very ambitious.
Paris: It is ambitious, but as long as I maintain quality control with the recording and put it through the production filter, for lack of a better term, I think we can do it.
Chris: Well, I have one more question that I'd like to ask.
Paris: All right.
Chris: And it's a bit of an odd question, but it's something that came up in the forums on our site recently, and I'm curious as to your opinion. We had a young...well, I actually don't even know the age...we had a reader who started a forum under the title "Can White People Truly Understand Hip-Hop Culture." And I'm curious what your opinion would be.
Paris: Well, the way hip-hop culture is presented now, yeah, because hip-hop culture is not an accurate reflection of black culture. And hip-hop culture, now, is dictated by corporations, so it's something that has been made to appease everyone and to include everyone, and that's not to say that good music shouldn't include everyone, but it shouldn't be homogenized to the point where it no longer has bite.
And hip-hop music to me is at its best when it's emotion-invoking. And I don't hear anything, and I mean nothing, on the radio that invokes any kind of emotion in me, and it didn't always use to be that way. And the music that I grew up on wasn't that way. You know, when you grow up listening to Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder and Cameo and Rick James and Parliament and the Bar-Kays and all that good s***, it's difficult to be satisfied by what a lot of these people who make music put out now--are satisfied by. It's difficult for me to embrace that. And whether or not white people get with it is not really the question, the question is whether or not hip-hop will become true to form overall as it is presented to the masses and continue to be honest. Like right now, it's not honest, and I think that when hip-hop first started, people were not concerned with making music that they thought other people might like, as opposed to making things that they liked and they wanted to hear...s***, I lost my f****** train of thought, man.
Chris: I was right there with you, too. I kind of lost it myself.
Paris: S***, f****** old-man moment. It's just that it's lost its honesty, man, and a lot of artists make music that they don't even like now--they like what they think other people are going to like, and they adjust based on what they think the marketplace will accept. And most people--black, white, Asian, otherwise--came into hip-hop and embraced it because it was honest when it first started and because it wasn't R&B and the love songs and the bulls*** that you heard on the radio 24/7, and it's completely different now. Now hip-hop has become what we once rejected.
Chris: True. Oftentimes, people become their enemy.
Paris: And again, you can kind of limit the state of hip-hop because these corporations reward a specific type of behavior and a specific type of message. So it's artificially dumb, and it's artificially young. When you see 40-something-year-old men running around with throwback jerseys and s***, talking about whatever the f*** they talk about, high-school issues, that's embarrassing--I'm embarrassed for them.
Chris: What do you think it will take to really shake things up?
Paris: A rebirth of a nation.
Chris: Hmm, perfect.
Paris: How's that for an answer.
Chris: I think that's perfect. Well, that's it.
Chris: But I also just wanted to extend a personal thank you for not only talking to us, but for reaching out with Public Enemy and putting out what I hope is an incredibly great album and exposes a lot of young people to Chuck D, Public Enemy, and to a better era of hip-hop.
Paris: You got it. I appreciate it, man, thank you for your time, too.