By Alex McCann, Designer Magazine
Although Paris is virtually unknown in the UK, his four albums ("The Devil Made Me Do It", "Sleeping With The Enemy", "Guerrilla Funk" and "Sonic Jihad") are amongst the most important hip-hop albums of all time. If you haven't heard the music you will, of course, be familiar with the album cover of "Sonic Jihad" which featured the image of a passenger plane flying directly towards the White House. In this case, it truly was judging a book by its cover as the album looked at America post September 11th and scrutinizes the Bush Administration and white supremacy since the inception of the country.
Ahead of the US Elections Designer Magazine rang up Paris in Oakland, California to discuss the fact that Bush & Kerry are different heads of the same beast. We also looked at the issues and facts that made up the bulk of "Sonic Jihad" and looked to the future of Paris's Guerrilla Funk Recordings that are set to drop albums from hip hop legends Public Enemy, MC Ren, Kam, T-Kash and The Conscious Daughters in 2005.
Q: Coming from the UK I guess we're seeing a different perspective, even in the mainstream media, then the outlets in the US. What are the feelings on the ground level from the people? Are people hopeful that Bush is going to be kicked out?
A: It's pretty divided man. Some people are hopeful, some people want him and some people don't give a shit either way because there's very little difference between the two (Bush & Kerry) or they're disillusioned with the process and feel that no matter who is in office it's all the same difference. It's a weird time because of the people who are concerned about the outcome, they're very passionate about it. You have people who want to see Bush out of office no matter what and I think 99% of those people who are supporting Kerry are only supporting him because they hate Bush, not necessary because they like Kerry.
Q: Is there a feeling though of almost what will Bush do next. I read the report linked from your website of FBI agents going 'round black communities and neighbourhoods and forcing them not to vote.
A: I don't know. To a large extent, Bush and Kerry represent different heads of the same beast. They're both pro-war. They're both pro-business. They both represent the haves at the expense of the have nots, or at the expense of the everyman. Combined with the fact that they're both Skull and Bones and they're related. That's disturbing. Out of the 300 million that live in the United States for the Presidential Elections to boil down to 2 people from the same family, who went to the same school, who are part of the same fraternity is more than just coincidence. I'm not a f**king fool. I didn't fall out of the sky. A lot of people would look at this situation more critically if they knew all of the facts surrounding both of these candidates, but that's never discussed in the mainstream media and when it is it's attributed to some sort of fantasy conspiracy. It's very disturbing though. It's monarchical to a certain extent.
Q: As you've said the facts are out there. A lot of what you're talking about on "Sonic Jihad" is out there on the net and in books. You just have to look for it as it's not talked about in the mainstream media.
A: The information is out there for anybody who's looking for it. The internet has been a great equalizer in terms of information dissemination. It's just a matter of people taking the initiative to look at it and to not discount everything that they read on the internet as being a lie or from unreliable sources. Most of what you read in media are from unreliable sources. The supposed evidence of Weapons Of Mass Destruction that was presented to the UN on behalf of Great Britain by Colin Powell is from an unreliable source, obviously, and now we're in a war on false pretences based on information supposedly from a reliable source. So you can't view everything that you see on TV at face value. You have to look into it deeply and you have to be able to discern what is the truth and what is not the truth. As a rule of thumb 99% of what you see on TV if it's showing the US in a positive light is false.
I always say look at who benefits from any piece of information, news story and the chain of events that transpire. 9/11, for example, look at who benefits from that financially (not ideologically) and you'll see the cause. It is not a difficult thing to put together. They were talking about forced conflict with Iraq before Bush even got in office they talked about the need to invade Afghanistan and to lay pipeline via Halliburton and to access oil from the Caspian sea. That was talked about in several well-known publications out here, but on "Sonic Jihad" and many online publications it was talked about right after September 11th. How can I know that evidence is plagiarized in support of the war? How come I know that and the mainstream media don't know that? How come I know about this pipeline scenario and Halliburton contracts that fleece average American taxpayers? How come I know about all of these things and they're not discussed in the mainstream media? How come I know about the Bush / Bin Laden connection and I can read that and connect all of the dots, but yet they can't. The fact that the Bush's and Bin Laden's have been doing business for years was never breached in mainstream media until Fahrenheit 9/11.
It's just disturbing that the media is completely corporate-owned and asleep at the wheel in terms of presenting real information to the people.
Q: How do convince the average person to look further than the mainstream media. There is this ritual that you wake up, have 20 minutes to read a paper in the morning before slaving away at work. A lot of people naturally take everything they read at face value and believe it.
A: You have to ask yourself is it in the best interests of the corporate elite to enlighten people truly. And I guess it's not if you want to maintain the status quo. We have billions of dollars for wars here to fight illegal immigrants and to kill people and control their natural resources....but we're always coming up short financially with education funding. You have to ask yourself do they have the intention of having an educated populous or do you just want a population of worker bees with Wallmart wages that are simply put in place to be consumers. That's pretty much the conclusion I've drawn from all of this. There is no desire to see the general population progress. If we want to continue to maintain the style we've become accustomed to, the disproportionate amount of natural resources that America takes up then we have to continue to raid other countries and rot on people's natural resources. People are slowly and surely realizing that in spite of what the media says America is the bully of the world. Not the world's police, but the bully of the world.
I'm not anti-American. I can't think of anywhere else I'd rather live quite honestly. But at the same time, I'm not going to sit idly by and live a particular lifestyle at other people's expense unnecessarily. The more I become aware of the way things are and why they are the way they are the more I'll share through Guerrilla Funk and through what we do.
Q: As you just said, "America's the Bully Of The World". Post-September 11th the world does feel like a more dangerous place. From what we see over here America is placed on 'terror alert' every single week. What are your opinions on this?
A: I think the War on Terror is a sham. There are a lot of people who feel as I do, that America was the one that was responsible for orchestrating the events of September 11th. The concept of manufactured enemies or false enemy creation is not foreign to us and it's not foreign to general warfare. It's easy to control the outcome when you are the enemy. Everything is politically staged and everything is strategic in a wag the dog sort of way.
I always ask people how would their perception of the War On Terror and everything that's happening on a global scale change if you found out that the United States was responsible for orchestrating that attack on itself. Well shit, then everything is turned on its ear. You look at everything that has happened in the world since September 11th has happened because of September 11th. All these illegal wars, murder, this rampant war profiteering has occurred as a result of September 11th specifically. The War on Afghanistan - September 11th. The War On Iraq, even though there is no proven link between Al Quaeda and Saddam - September 11th. There wouldn't be the momentum for people to get behind the war here if it wasn't because of September 11th. There needed to be a Pearl Harbour type of event to occur to galvanize the populous here to be behind this illegal war. Even though it could be argued that there are millions of people opposed to the war the government just does what it wants to do.
The fairness of it can just be argued. If you and a handful of your buddies did something horrible over here. Would the United States be justified in bombing Britain to look for you? That shit is just ludicrous. That's like someone coming to Oakland and blowing up Oakland looking for me. Even if Britain is harbouring you, that wouldn't be a justification for war, a war which was never formally declared. You have 100's of thousands of people who have been murdered or impaired as a result of these false pretences.
Q: When you released "Sonic Jihad" there weren't many people in the hip-hop community expressing the same thoughts.
A: For the people that know they don't get to shine or have the ability to reach people. I'm a little bit different. I run my production, label, and website independently from the majors. But for the people that get the benefit of major exposure as a result of being affiliated with a major label, none of them are political. Most hip-hop artists quite honestly are apolitical. They don't know and they don't care to know. They're removed from the political process and they're removed from commentary on certain issues. They have a sort of dogmatic tunnel vision when it comes to things they don't know. It's all this tired gangster imagery that you see over and over again. There's a place for that, but that cannot be presented as the only option and at the moment that's being presented as though that's all there is.
Q: Do you think they don't know or they chose not to know?
A: I think they don't know. Most people in America don't read so they get all their information from popular media. And when you do that it's easy to mould the perception of the population in any way that you choose to when something like 85% of people get their information from Fox News. That's kind of disturbing, but it's true. These people in America deserve what they get. They f**king deserve George Bush. If you don't do anything to rectify the situation in the face of all these lies and in the face of all these revelations of rampant wrongdoing then it's on you.
Q: I know the album was released independently, but how hard was it getting an album out like "Sonic Jihad" with the barrage of criticism that follows from newscasters and the media. For example, the "unpatriotic" label that Michael Moore got after Fahrenheit 9/11.
A: I had a pretty solid support base as a result of the website. Once word started getting around that this record was coming out and there was controversy surrounding the cover. The "What Would You Do?" single was all over the internet, it was getting airplay and once that momentum kicked in it ended up not being as difficult as I thought it would have been. Had I approached Warner Brothers or something I knew the answer to that before I even asked the question. I knew this was something that was going to be released independently from the onset. I'd been down the censorship path before with "Sleeping With The Enemy" with "Bush Killa". There was nothing that took me by surprise.
I was expecting a lot of adversity from the press especially with "Sonic Jihad" and the cover and stuff, but I think that got squished pretty early on. I interviewed with Fox News and they tried to attack me with Alan Colmes on the Hannity and Colmes Show. He's one of the leading Conservative Talking heads, kinda like Rush Limbaugh. He was completely unprepared before the interview and got ridiculed in his own format. The people who were in opposition to me at that point began to ignore him. What they do, and I've seen them do this a lot with hip-hop, is they pick on the indefensible so they make all of hip-hop look bad. So they go to Eminem and say "Eminem, don't your lyrics talking about raping your mother". Then when they ask me about Eminem what am I supposed to say. Am I supposed to defend that shit about raping his mother? You're not gonna get this out of me. It's easy to pick apart easy targets like when Ludacris went for his Pepsi endorsement. It's easy to pick that shit apart, but it's not easy to f**k with me. When they realize that it's not in their best interests to pursue someone like me who will pull the sheets off of them, rather than continue and try to refute what I say they just ignore it altogether. When I talk about the falsity of the Patriots Act and how it impedes our civil liberties and can go into specific details about what provisions of the Bill Of Rights have been trampled on by the Patriot Act then that gives em shine because I'm on their network. It's easier to sweep it under the rug.
Q: So there was never a question of going to the majors, like Dead Prez who released records on Sony, for example.
A: I think they released records on Sony. I don't know whether they still can do that. They were at war with Sony for a long time regarding content issues, artwork and their vision for what they wanted to do. Ideally, it would make sense for Dead Prez to be on Guerrilla Funk...but that's another interview (laughs)
Q: With Guerrilla Funk you're working with a lot of artists. You're producing Public Enemy, Ren, T-Cash, Conscious Daughters. Working on four albums at a time must mean you never stop.
A: We're recording here and there. It's a creative process where we record a load of stuff and then pick the best. I want everything to be coherent and to address specifics. I think for people who still love hip hop and are not interested in that 14/15-year-old girl demographic that hip-hop seems to focus on they want more than what's being talked about all day on MTV. So the records have to be stand-alone and timeless and I don't want to make anything that I'm ashamed of or can't listen to a few years from now. That being said it just takes time to craft the records correctly and be sure they're as good as they can possibly be.
Q: The thing I notice about your four records to date is that as well as the strong lyrical content, the production on it is classic hip hop and it's got the hook in there as well. You understand the value of getting the perfect hook on a track.
A: That's my criticism of a lot of like-minded people who talk about the things that I talk about. A lot of times their production falls short because you still have to have something entertaining. If I want to be preached at I go to church. You have to understand that the medium is hip-hop and it has to be something that is appealing to the ear and that can hold up to repeated listening. That means taking a very analytical approach to putting records together. It's easy to put a hook together and it's easy to make a dance track and put it out there, but is it something you're gonna want to hear 10 years from now and therein lies the problem. I always do my best to craft it.
Nowadays I listen to music I like differently than I used to listen to it. When you're involved in making music on the level that I'm involved in it you don't listen to music to enjoy it. You listen to it to pick it apart. When I listen to the Neptunes or Dre or Premiere I'm more or less analysing the process, the different original sounds, and the source material or if it's an interpolation or a sample and really seeing how it works.
Q: Do you see each album you do as a separate entity?
A: I do feel it's a separate entity and the longer I do it the more I learn. "Sonic Jihad" is the only album I've done where I wouldn't change anything. Everything is a progression as technology changes. Now everything is recorded in a digital domain and its infinitely tweakable. I can have 60 tracks whereas back in the day it would take 3 2" machines to get that or a lot of 2 track bouncing. Now the digital domain makes it possible for large multi-track productions to take place with total recall in the mix. It's much more productive to the creative process.
Q: How did it compare making "Sonic Jihad" to "Guerrilla Funk" or "The Devil Made Me Do It"?
A: "Sonic Jihad" is very specific and there are certain songs on there that deal with subjects on a very specific level. Like "Awol" is about minority recruitment in the military. "What Would You Do?" in an indictment of the Bush Administration. "Evil" is a synopsis of white supremacy since the inception of America. Some songs talk about specifics on "Sonic Jihad" whereas before, outside of maybe "Bush Killa" and "Assata's Song", there was more of a generalization of anger and despair and wielding not too much in the way of specifics.
Now as things go, for example on "Sleep To The Slaughter" on "Sonic Jihad" I'm naming people that are directly benefiting from the War On Terror. I want to talk about Toby Keats, John Woods, Arnold Schwarzenegger who are pro-war, but none of them want to fight or none of them can fight. It's easy to be pro-war when you know you can't fight and when I name these people out it's a very specific statement. Bruce Willis phoned up George Bush and said count me in...that's the bitchiest shit I've ever heard because you know that can't be. It's easy to poke your chest out and be a war hawk when you know you can't fight. All these young Republicans and Neocons, all these people that are pro-USA and ra ra ra about the war still are not willing to fight. If you're not willing to get in the trenches then shut the f**k up. Who the hell is going to be in the trenches? Young people of colour. Disproportionately young people of colour are going to be the ones that fight these rich white wars. We've got to speak out.
Q: "Sonic Jihad", as you said earlier was a very specific album. Is the next album going to carry on getting focused and more specific yet again?
A: Yeah. I think that's what people are coming to expect from me. I can't make albums of generalizations anymore. Not every song is going to hit you over the head with topics, but I want it to be value-added. I want it to be something you can relate to now.
Q: When you're providing a viable alternative to the pop-fluff hip hop of Nelly and 50 Cent that's aimed at the target market of teenage girls there's strength in numbers when you're hooking up with Public Enemy and the collective of artists we mentioned earlier
A: That's the idea. When Def Jam first started I knew that I wouldn't be disappointed with any record that I bought that had that logo on it. In the late 80s / early 90s I was never disappointed. Def Jam was the label to be. That's how Tommy Boy was for a long time when they first started. It is possible to achieve that same status now.
Many people are involved in hip-hop and the music industry for the wrong reasons. A lot of people act as though pursuing a career in hip-hop is like winning the lottery. If you're doing it just for the money or the girls or the fame you're doing it for the wrong reasons. You have to do it because you love music and you're passionate about putting out good material. The difference between now and the era that preceded this is that everybody couldn't make records. Now everybody can make records and 90% of the shit that's out there is terrible.
I came up on P-Funk, Prince, Rick James, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye - all these acts that wrote their own material and performed their own material and were classics in their own right. I also had the benefit of coming up in an era where hip-hop was completely different, where if your shit was terrible you got told it was terrible and you never got heard. You would get rushed off stage. And if you talked about shit that was negative to the community you would also get rushed off stage. Now it's the opposite. 99% of the shit that's out there is derogatory to the community - misogynistic, unnecessarily violent and glorified debauchery and drugs. They do what they think labels want to hear, not what the streets want to hear, because labels dictate the street. I come from an era of hip-hop that's 180 degrees from what's happening now.
Q: And the Guerrilla Funk website links in with this sense of community. The fact that when you log on to the website the product comes secondary to the news source and information
A: The idea is to make it bigger than just me. There are a lot of people who subscribe to Guerrilla Funk who don't even like rap, but they come there because the information is counter to what they get on TV all day long. There is no such thing as liberal media here. Conservative music outlets are all that there is here. Air America, which Chuck D is on, is inconsequential to the behemoth of corporate conservative media. The object of Guerrilla Funk in addition to the music was to provide information and then with Guerrilla News Network along with Guerrilla Funk was to provide information that you don't get anywhere else. Of course, you can get it on the web elsewhere, but to do it in a way that is visually appealing because everything has an entertainment spin on it.
Q: With all these albums in the pipeline are you looking to come over to the UK and Europe and take the show out on the road
A: I've got a tour manager who's based in the UK and Germany so we're looking to bring out a package tour. Ideally, it will be me, Cam, Public Enemy, Conscious Daughters, Ren and probably T-Kash. There's strength in unity and having a tour like a Fresh Fest situation where everybody's on the same page and everybody's coming from the same place. We haven't had in a long time and there's no better time than the present.
Having Dead Prez on the bill would be ideal, but again that kind of package we would be talking 10,000 seater rather than 1500. It has to be something that makes sense. I'm willing to forgo my fee if I can have all the merchandising because merchandising is where it really is because the profit margin on a T-shirt is the same as on an album. It's 2 days to make a T-shirt and 2 years to make an album bro, but I understand there's no justification for the T-shirt if the albums not cool.
Nothings coming out till the first quarter of next year. February 15th I think is when the first record is scheduled. Once everything kicks into high gear it's going to be a completely different situation. We've got some records on Guerrilla Funk that are going to end people's careers. Really. It's going to make people look much more closely at what they've been listening to. A lot of the shit that is successful now is only successful because nothing else is out.
Q: One of the major releases on Guerrilla Funk is going to be Public Enemy's "Rebirth Of A Nation", produced by yourself. What are you looking to add to the PE sound, is it going to be your own commercial production added to the mix
A: It's going to be polished, but it's going to be very forceful. What I love about Public Enemy, especially when I first started listening to them around the "Nation Of Millions" album, was the production and that sonic onslaught that it had. There is a way to present that to people nowadays without sounding dated. It just takes time to execute well. The albums still in the skeleton stage, but it's not due out to this time next year. There's a lot of shit that's coming out before that.
Q: What are the first albums you're dropping next year?
A: Mid to late February is the first set of releases. Kam and Lynch Mob and T-Kash and the Daughters. It's all going to depend on what's ready first and what's slamming hardest. That's another reason why out the gate I'm only dealing with established artists. New acts are too difficult to break, especially for a fledgling label. After we bill against some of the bigger name acts we can look at giving some support to new and upcoming acts.