By Dennis Byron Jr., XXL
While revolutionary rappers like Chuck D and KRS-One used their pens and pads to inspire the oppressed to "fight the powers that be" on the East Coast, a man always garbed in black single-handedly revitalized the spirit of the Black Panthers on the Left Coast.
Enter Paris. The rapper put San Francisco on the map with his seminal debut, 1990's The Devil Made Me Do It. Paris proved that California was more than just Jheri Curls, Old English bottles, and gang banging.
Paris' eerie synths and hard-hitting drum tracks perfectly complimented his rhymes, creating a sound that charged listeners worldwide.
Censors attempted to mute Paris' later work and banned his controversial covers depicting an attempt to assassinate President George H. W. Bush (Sleeping With The Enemy) and fly a plane directly into the White House (Sonic Jihad). Instead of crumbling under the pressure, the managerial economics grad blazed new trails to make paper in the music industry. He went independent, flourishing with his label (Guerrilla Funk featuring Kam, The Conscious Daughters, The Coup's T-K.A.S.H., and others) and selling albums that maintained his numerous theories.
Now, dropping his highly anticipated eighth album, Acid Reflex, Paris talks to XXLmag.com and continues to prove that revolutionary lyricism cannot be stopped.
XXL: Your first album, The Devil Made Me Do It, was notable. How have you maintained that fire after all of these years? Cats get "scary" when it comes to the government and speaking their minds, yet you still do it fearlessly.
PARIS: It is the conditions that I see going on. There are so few of us with a national platform, and international platform in my case, that are able to speak our minds. If more had that access, then artists would speak on it if they were more knowledgeable about what's happening. I don't fault artists for not doing so, because they simply don't know. There are certain gatekeepers that provide the opportunity for us to be heard, but oftentimes they celebrate the worst of us. A lot of times, we seem to gravitate towards what we think is expected of us and it's a continuous, vicious cycle. But I know better. I have had the opportunity to visit numerous countries and developed a world view that is unique. I am pretty well-read, soak up information and I try to deliver information when I come across it. I just realize that there are very few [of us] who have the ability to do what I do, so that's why I treat it so seriously.
XXL: So do people always take you this serious?
PARIS: Ha! Man, a lot of people meet me and expect like, Darth Vader or somebody, based on my music. I like to have fun, kick it and I love to meet people. It's really all good. The love I get from supporters, not fans because that is not how I'm rolling. I am blessed to keep doing this. I cut my first record in '87 and I am still here. That's love.
XXL: The beautiful thing is that you have been selling millions of albums, most of them independently, so you show promise that you can succeed and still speak your mind on the most controversial issues.
PARIS: Well, originally, I was a beneficiary of someone else's money, which always helps. Then my first album, Devil Made Me Do It, came out and it initially sold 300,000 units -
XXL: Which was huge back then!
PARIS: Yeah! It was counter-culture to sell like that, especially when it was banned from most radio and video stations. It was a swimming upstream type of scenario. This was well before the commercialization of it. And then when I delivered my second album (Sleeping With The Enemy), it had a song called "Bush Killa" and another one called "Coffee, Donuts & Death" - a revenge killing fantasy of racist police officers who were raping women out in Oakland. Long story short, I delivered the record, they didn't want to put it out, kicked me off of Warner Music and then I got settlement money. I used that money to put out my next album, which almost went gold, and I have been independent ever since.
XXL: Independent to the tenth degree! You do your beats, design and pretty much everything, right?
PARIS: Yeah, man. I do all of the music and it is by design because I know many MCs who are held hostage by their inability to put all of their music together by relying on other people. It became evident early on that I had to have complete control of my production - from the mic to the shelf, I like to call it.
XXL: Speaking of design and swimming upstream, the Sonic Jihad album cover with the plane going into the White House ... Wow, still.
PARIS: You know, it's really a necessity to do my own thing to get the vision across and with that album, especially when it was delivered, that came out several months after 9/11. Sonic came about as a result of the oppressive climate of censorship that was happening around that time. There were so many acts that were getting dropped, and it became more and more apparent that I needed to develop a situation that would allow me to reach people globally, be totally uncensored and say what exactly needs to be said. That's when I started Guerrilla Funk, which is now distributed through Universal, which is always cool because we were the top five percent in sales of independent labels in 2006. There is a market for it, but you just won't see it on TV where hip-hop is kept artificially young and dumb.
XXL: The Universal signing proves the power of independence and in your case, longevity.
PARIS: That's right. In this environment, I want to ride with people that are still around. My career has outlasted a lot of entities that I did business with back in the day. Priority is no longer around, Tommy Boy is no longer around, 4th & Broadway ... all of these labels that I have dealt with are gone. I know that Universal remains a constant and pretty much touches everything nowadays.
XXL: Listing those labels, they may be defunct now, but you were in the company of some brilliant groups including De La Soul, Digital Underground, X-Clan, Eric B and Rakim, etc., yet, you were still coming from a totally different direction.
PARIS: Absolutely. Back then, from the Bay alone, there was only me, Too $hort, Digital Underground and MC Hammer, and you couldn't find acts that were more different from one another, but we could still come out, be on the radio and tour at the same time [together]. That is something that is now lost in hip-hop with the labels dictating what the people want, so labels like Guerrilla Funk flourish because there is a demand for it.
XXL: A lot of people don't know that you are also gangster with handling money, majoring in managerial economics and later being a successful investment banker as well.
PARIS: You do your research! Yeah, it helps a lot more now than I thought it would! (Laughing) I was involved in investment banking especially during the Dot-Com era, which helped to set up a lot of things that I am doing now, so I have a fall-back position in case I need it. And really, that is not an exception to the rule for a lot of people. There are a lot of artists that have viable positions outside of music that just don't get spoken about. I mean, if you are relying on this dying industry to put food on your table, you will get your feelings hurt. Even at the height of success, it is a tough sell. And independently, you almost always have to have a Plan B. I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said "Real musicians have a day job" and that is the realest shit I have ever read.
XXL: Record sales are getting touched and money isn't flowing like it used to, so you really have to have your business tight. Still, you are banging out album after album. Let's talk about your latest project, Acid Reflex. Break it down.
PARIS: The next album is exactly what it says, my acidic response to what is going on. Regarding America, it all stems from a self-inflicted wound, which is 9/11. If you believe as I do that this was orchestrated on our own soil by people who stood to benefit from it financially, the war on terror has become a bullshit propaganda fest. Now, with all of these lies starting to unfold, it's really a hard pill for Joe America to swallow. Especially when you are taught that America is the best and brightest, and your government can do no wrong; it is a tough realization for the average American who is not necessarily well-read in politics or socially aware, disenfranchised or maybe working in a factory where all they do is come home and watch Fox. You now turn around and realize that it is all bullshit. It is very difficult. It is like telling a child that Santa doesn't exist.
XXL: Musically, what can people expect from Acid Reflex?
PARIS: More of the same. More honesty, more fusion of funk and rock-influenced hip-hop that people expect from me, along with biting social commentary. I also worked with George Clinton and Chuck D. Working with George was me going full circle, because I literally came up on P-Funk, so to have him in the booth, taking direction and being as cool as he was, that was a career-defining moment for me.