Paris Is Burning
By Charles Aaron, The Village Voice
The election's over, and of course, none of us wanna stop thinking about tomorrow, but the "Cop Killer" controversy continues to prove that yesterday is far from gone. Bay Area rapper Paris's second album. Sleeping with the Enemy, held up for release by Time Warner-owned Tommy Boy since late July, has finally been rejected by Warners for content deemed objectionable. The record, featuring "Coffee, Donuts & Death," a revenge reverie in which a cop is killed for raping a young woman, and more problematically, "Bush Killa," a fantasy about assassinating lame-duck George Bush, will now be released on Paris's own Scarface label with money from a Warner Bros. settlement ("a substantial amount, six figures," says the rapper).
"Warner Bros. destroyed 90,000 units of my album," Paris told Rockbeat this past weekend. "I mean, it's a book-burning style censorship. They could've settled with me prior to the election, given me the parts and said, 'Here, do this on your own.' I could've had it out in time before November 3, but they chose not to do that. They waited until a week before the election, when it was too late, then destroyed all the masters and artwork. I had to regenerate everything on my own."
According to Paris, problems first arose for Sleeping with the Enemy when a Tommy Boy employee leaked suggested album artwork (Paris in front of the Capitol with an Uzi) to the New York Sheriffs' Association (Tommy Boy claims to have no idea where the leak originated). Police pressure groups mobilized and Warner Music chairman Robert Morgado put the album in Time Warner purgatory. Grounded by their parent company, Tommy Boy tried to work a one-off deal with 4th & Broadway, a hip-hop independent label owned, but not distributed, by Polygram. However, Polygram CEO Alain Levy also found the album (i.e., "Bush Killa") too controversial. Next in line was Geto Boys fan Rick Rubin, who wanted to release Sleeping with the Enemy on his indie, Sex; Warners, which owns Rubin's Def American label, thought the association with Time Warner still too close and pressured him to back off (Def American declined comment). Paris felt particularly betrayed by Rubin, who simply stopped returning his phone calls when Warners killed the project. "If he's not willing to be a man and face me, then fuck him," says Paris. "What's the point in him being with Warner Bros., when it's become apparent that they're punks who won't support him?"
It's often said in corporate labels' defense that these decisions are simply matters of "good business," not censorship. (Certainly that was the idea lurking behind last Sunday's Richard M. Clurman New York Times Arts & Leisure piece on Time Warner's "controversial artists," which disguised a clear conservative political agenda with the rhetoric of good taste.) According to this argument, the potential legal fees and executive hours spent on these albums are bottom-line prohibitive. And it might stick if record executives didn't invariably invoke questions of "morality," and in the case of "Bush Killa," questions of legality, although Sleeping with the Enemy clearly enjoys constitutional protection (Rockbeat. October 20).
"They are not in a position to make 'good' business decisions," says Paris. "Special-interest groups are dictating how they operate, and as a result, they're shutting things down before they even reach the marketplace. They are in such fear of these police and religious right groups that they're losing money. They've lost well over $1 million on my project alone on nothing but fear. And, besides, if they did say it was 'just good business,' why would any artists or labels want to be affiliated with that? What good is a major label with that attitude?"
Paris adds that he finds it "disheartening" when Time Warner censors Sleeping with the Enemy, Kool G Rap & DJ Polo's Live and Let Die, and other hip-hop artists, yet still releases Madonna's Sex. "Where's the 'morality' there? There's a double standard that needs to be addressed. It's obvious that the censorship is selective. Why fear a backlash from my record when Madonna's book will easily infuriate more people?" A double standard also seems to exist amongst hip-hop acts. Consider Live Squad's single "Heartless/Murderahh," released by Tommy Boy in September. On the B-side, the group imagines revenge for police harassment by "bustin' a nut" down the throat of a cop's wife, shooting her, putting a gun in the cop's mouth, and throwing his baby out a window. Tommy Boy ran an ad for live Squad in the October Source: "Keep telling yourself it's only a record." Yeah, tell it to Paris.
But as Paris publicist Bill Adler points out, all this squabblingg among artists and record companies plays directly into the hands of censorship groups. "Bob Morgado is made out to be the bad guy in all this, but he's nothing compared to [2 LIve Crew obsessive] Jack Thompson or [Freedom Alliance founder] Ollie North. They're so evil that they're like cartoon characters. Paris is being vamped on for political reasons, and that's the real issue."