By Kyle Eustice, High Times Magazine
REVOLUTIONARY BAY AREA HIP-HOP LEGEND PARIS TALKS JOE BIDEN, THE LACK OF POLITICALLY-CHARGED RAP IN 2021 AND DECRIMINALIZATION OF MARIJUANA.
Paris was born and raised in San Francisco, CA, the Bay Area's big sister city to Oakland, home of the Black Panther Party. Founded by Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton in 1966, the BPP closely monitored the behavior of the Oakland Police Department and fought against police brutality. Paris organically stumbled upon the teachings of the Nation of Islam and the BPP, informing his music and ultimately placing his voice among Public Enemy and other revolutionary hip-hop groups at the time.
"I never got into this to be an activist," he explains. "I just wanted to make music that banged and wasn't silly; the conscious angle happened organically. I came up on Gil-Scott Heron, Curtis Mayfield, Parliament-Funkadelic, The Isley Brothers and Stevie Wonder—artists who made statements in their own respective ways—and I wanted to have a catalog that wasn't disposable. Then Public Enemy came out and blew the lid off. That was it for me. After that, I never wanted to waste time on the mic or squander my voice."
And Paris' voice was loud. His debut album, 1990's The Devil Made Me Do It, was so controversial, the title track was banned on MTV. Some records stores even refused to carry the album due to its graphic cover art featuring a police officer placing a young Black boy in a chokehold.
But like any provocative art, Paris' work created a conversation and boldly reminded America just how racist and corrupt it is, especially on songs such as "Panther Power" and "The Hate That Hate Made."
In 2021, the senseless police killings of Black citizens such as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Elijah McClain continue to reverberate throughout the country as people grapple with the overt racism still prevalent in a post-Trump America. Needless to say, Paris has work to do. In October 2020, he returned with Safe Space Invader, the follow-up to 2015's Pistol Politics. Par for the course, the 10-track project took aim at current socio-political issues that, sadly, still resonate today. As the title suggests, "Baby Man Hands" directly addressed the former president, but Paris says he was only a "symptom" of what America has always been about—"racism and class warfare." He believes Joe Biden is essentially cut from the same cloth.
"Biden is no different," he says. "The racism is less overt and Kamala Harris is a worthless straw man. People, in general, stay disappointed and chronically divided in this country because its societal mechanisms are never intended to provide real relief; there's always something or someone preventing change that actually helps people. Culture wars are inflamed to provide a necessary diversion for America to continue doing what she's always done—infect other countries with imperialism, wage war and seize resources."
If Paris sounds like he's spent ample time researching the issues that plague the nation, it's because he has. Armed with a degree in economics from the University of California-Davis, the studious MC religiously used his music as a vehicle for educating the masses while educating himself. Three decades later, Paris' politically-charged hip-hop can be heard on the FX series Uncovered, the Netflix documentary Biggie: I've Got A Story To Tell and the Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson-fronted sitcom Young Rock, to name a few.
"It feels excellent on the one hand that productions are using material from my catalog and spotlighting my newer music," he says. "It's all bad at the same time, though, because social conditions haven't improved. The fact that the content on these songs is still relevant is a shame, really. Racism, classism, police brutality, war, poverty, gentrification—they're all still issues that are going on, increasing in many cases."
Naturally, Paris has his opinions when it comes to the cannabis industry, too, saying he's all for it even though his smoking days are behind him.
"I used to smoke a tiny bit in high school a thousand years ago [laughs]," he remembers. "But then I got involved heavily in religion for a spell and pretty much stopped everything. Then I left religion and never really tripped off of weed for the longest. Now, I have some edibles around the house for hijinks every now and then, but nothing serious.
"I will say I'm feelin' the decriminalization of it and the widespread acceptance and profitability it's brought about. A lotta my peers are doing well with cannabis—[Cypress Hill's] B-Real, Xzibit and Kurupt and gang of others. If we can get a fed law passed embracing it, we'll ease concerns a lot of people still have about its long-term viability from a business standpoint and from law enforcement; that and a retroactive dismissal of weed-related convictions would be the shit."
Meanwhile, Paris is juggling his own endeavors at Guerrilla Funk Recordings, a label he's owned since 2002. Artists such as Public Enemy, George Clinton, E-40, The Coup, dead prez, Immortal Technique, Tha Eastsidaz, The Conscious Daughters, DJ True Justice, Mystic and MC Ren are among the many notable artists who found a home at the imprint.
"I started Guerrilla Funk in response to the constrictive cultural environment that we found ourselves in during the aftermath of the 9/11 terror shit," he says. "Artists who expressed dissent were systematically silenced by self-imposed censorship at many labels, so I created a lane with Guerrilla Funk to provide many voices a platform."
He's also waist-deep in multiple television projects that are in development but not quite ready to be unveiled.
"There's a lot I can't really go into," he admits. "I continue to license material out of Guerrilla Funk's catalog, of which I own 100 percent. Additionally, I've contributed music recently to Blindspotting on STARZ, All Day and A Night on Netflix, The Purge series, The Deuce on Showtime, Get Shorty on Epix and more."
Putting that economics degree to good use, he continues, "This is a prime example of why it's important for artists to maintain ownership of what we create, to properly register and protect our rights, and to maintain our publishing and the administration of our works. You don't have to be a loud peacock and clout-chase in the industry to create a profitable lane, but you do need to handle business wisely."
While Paris has built a lucrative career for himself independently, there are plenty of people who perhaps aren't aware of just how much he's contributed to hip-hop culture. In 2016, the late Nipsey Hussle and Compton rapper YG dropped a song via Def Jam Recordings called "FDT (Fuck Donald Trump)," a scathing anti-Trump anthem. The bones of the song were pulled from The Conscious Daughters' track "Something To To Ride To (Fonky Expedition)," which Paris produced for the duo's 1993 debut, Ear To The Street—and that's just one example.
"I don't know if people are aware of my contributions," he says with a laugh. "I just feel fortunate to have a voice. I've sold millions of records and am comfortable with the fact that I haven't sold out my values or beliefs in the process. Besides, when all is said and done, the only thing that matters is control. Those who have control will be the ones who benefit the most. They'll also be the ones who write the history of this slice of culture we call hip-hop. That's why control is important."
Although Paris isn't exactly sold on the idea of releasing another solo album, he's not short on studio time. The 53-year-old is living out his childhood dreams by producing an album for Parliament-Funkadelic, some of his musical heroes.
"Hopefully, that will be approved as a Parliament album, a throwback to the Funkentelechy and MotorBooty Affair-era when they had hits like 'Flashlight' and 'Aqua Boogie,' shit I grew up on," he says. "It's a bucket list project for me that continues the mythology of Dr. Funkenstein, Sir Nose and Starchild. Those who know, know."
But Paris' work is far from over. Mainstream rap music sorely lacks any kind of political voice like the one that put Public Enemy and Paris in the hip-hop history books—and he suspects he knows why.
"People can't miss what they never knew and because outlets pay attention to and embolden the bullshit that's out," he concludes. "The streets don't dictate the culture—corporations do. The streets simply respond to what's given. And what's given is accepted as the new normal because, to many people, there's no visible alternative. But there is. And we are."