Paris: Jagged Pill
By Seandra Sims, AllHipHop.com
California-based emcee Paris is a throwback to an era when red, black and green medallions were standard issue, and hip hop, still a pre-teen, was deemed unmarketable and something to be feared by corporate America. In 1990, Paris released his debut album and single, The Devil Made Me Do It, and became part of a growing movement of artists determined to use hip hop as a mechanism to speak out against society's ills. His initial success, driven by now-defunct label Tommy Boy and corporate giant Time Warner, was no surprise to those around him. But with tides in the genre slowly turning, there was no room in corporate America for his ranting among the emerging imagery of gangsters and ghetto affluence.
Flash forward to 2003. The country's commercial kingdom, the World Trade Center, has fallen, thousands of U.S. troops are at war in Iraq for the second time in a decade, and hip hop is a multi-billion dollar musical and cultural mainstay in society. One gets the sense from listening to Paris that he has been waiting for the planets to align at just the right moment to unleash his new brand of fury. In 2003, some four albums later, it's called Sonic Jihad – the type of music that ‘Parental Advisory’ labels were created for.
Not made with the light at heart or the red-white-and-blue all-American sort in mind, Jihad is old school West Coast flavor meets militant Black Nationalism. With lines like, "It's the return of the Bush Killa/ Back to bust/ Just us for the justice/ In God we trust/ I rush truth to the youth/ And shine the light/ Take the red pill/ Open up your eyes to light" from the track "Field Nigga Boogie," Paris isn't pulling any punches or seemingly concerned with what you really think, so much as what you don't really know. Conspiracy theories run rampant between his clever and sometimes shocking verses; and although Paris denounces the term ‘conspiracy theory,’ he knows his information sharing will ruffle more than a few feathers, even among his own. Raise the terror alert to Level Orange.
Paris, like many others in this current climate of distrust, is convinced that the Bush Administration orchestrated, and possibly even funded, the horrific events of September 11, 2001. He's even gone so far as to produce a documentary on DVD, "Aftermath: Unanswered Questions from 9/11," answering several questions you’ve always had about all of those 9/11 conspiracy theories you’ve heard. An impressive and diverse mix of scholars and government agents lend opinions and "truths" on everything from Unanswered Question # 3 – "Why wasn't the U.S. military able to intercept the hijacked planes?" to Unanswered Question # 10 – "How has recent legislation like the Patriot Act and the Homeland Security bill affected the lives of American people?" The result is a well-researched, over-the-top dose of true-reality TV.
But what bothers Paris the most isn't what he says whites in power are perpetrating against the Black community; it's what the community is doing to itself. He pleads, "Take it back to the days when we raised us up. Before coward ass rap made the game corrupt." Sonic Jihad is lent credibility by longtime "progressive" industry names like Public Enemy, Dead Prez, Capleton and Kam, Paris's own militant army of superfriends. The guest appearances on the album leave one wishing that Paris would tone down his rhetoric a notch so his brand of knowledge could be pumped freely over the airwaves; after all, Public Enemy and Dead Prez have both enjoyed mainstream success. However, hip hop is more "iced-out" medallion than red, black and green these days, so they, like Paris, linger on the fringes like time bombs waiting to explode. The good news is, Paris, by most standards, can flow. And with the right album backing – this time around, his own – and a bulletproof vest, he may even start a revolution. AllHipHop sits in with Paris to find out exactly why it won't be televised.
AllHipHop.com: You’ve got a lot to say about September 11th, but first, what has your overall mission been in the years since you released the album The Devil Made Me Do It in 1990?
Paris: From the beginning, I’ve always attempted to make music that inspires and incites thought that serves as a catalyst for people to want to know more, aside from what they’re given every day by the media. It has always been intended to engage people and make us correct. That's always been the overall objective, and always to do it in a way that's entertaining and that serves to counter-balance a lot of what's already out there.
AllHipHop: Back in the 1990s, you were on Tommy Boy and Time Warner wasn't too happy with your outspoken views, and you were eventually dropped from the label. Did that experience ever make you have second thoughts about the things you were saying and how outspoken you were?
Paris: Well, actually, it made me stronger. It made me realize blatantly who my adversaries were, and who they continue to be. With the industry as corporate and consolidated as it has become, it has become an increasingly difficult place for people who have something other to sell than negativity to be heard. When you look at the imagery that's inundating our communities, then you realize that it has to be a deliberate attempt on behalf of labels to only release material that keeps us on a brain dead state.
My beef with Tommy Boy occurred after The Devil Made Me Do It. When that record came out, it sold roughly 300,000 copies back then, when hip hop wasn't really mainstream. That was released during a time when it really was an uphill struggle to get hip hop played on the radio and to get hip hop videos shown on mainstream outlets. It was a much different situation than it is now. It was only upon the delivery of my second record that I began to have difficulties with the content. At that time, Ice T was already under fire for "Cop Killer," and [the record] was my thoughts about then-President Bush back then. Some of the other gentlemen on my record were saying the same types of things.
AllHipHop: Yeah, most people who know your works are familiar with your past lyrical attacks against Daddy Bush and crooked law enforcement officials. Now on the second anniversary of September 11th, you’re more "controversial" than ever. Your upcoming album, Sonic Jihad, has a picture of a plane flying straight for the White House. That's a big pill to swallow for some. What motivates a project like that?
Paris: It's intended to be a big pill to swallow, to help counteract the propaganda that we’re inundated with on a daily basis – that the media bombards us with 24-7. That is not really a hard pill to swallow if you believe as I do that the higher-ups in the Bush Administration were directly responsible for the events of September 11th. If you look at the profit ramifications of everything that has happened as a result of that, and the people of color suffering worldwide; if you look at the oil prospects and defense contracts that have gone through and the cronyism that exists as a result of that, then you begin to realize that it's not that big of a stretch for people who have proven to be inherently evil, to murder 2,400 people to achieve their objectives. That is where I’m coming from with this project.
Based on research that I’ve done online and informational reading that I’ve come across from many sources, it is brutally apparent that that's the crux of the situation and there has still been no independent investigation done. There's has still been no follow-up as to the cause and the money connections between the Bushes and the bin Ladens – there's been none of that. And so, when I come out with this, of course, it's going to be a shock to people who only get their information from mainstream media. That is why the website, www.guerrillafunk.com, is offered along with this record – they’re supposed to work in tandem to educate. People can go there, and they’re able to read alternate forms of information that they don't normally get. Then they’re ready to read about the manmade origins of AIDS, they’re able to get the full story on September 11th and the money trail. They can see digitized content of a video that I helped to produce called "Aftermath: Unanswered Questions from 9/11," and hear in detail about a lot of the unanswered questions they may have. It's not really a shock-value tactic, though it is a tactic that is intended to make people notice. It's not done in any way to be inflammatory or to be disrespectful to the victims of 9/11, but rather as a way to express anger and frustration and disgust with an out of control regime that wages war at whim.
AllHipHop: Since you talked about the website… it's, well, enlightening to say the least. There really is a lot of information on it, and you spend a lot of time talking about the Patriot Act. With the type of content on your site, aren't you just the kind of guy that John Ashcroft is looking to pin the Patriot Act on?
Paris: The high profile nature of the website and the fact that Sonic Jihad is getting so much mainstream exposure… I just talked to the Chicago Tribune, and [the fact that] I’ve been doing a ton of press lately makes it even more difficult for them to keep it from the public. There are no laws that have been broken, there is no discrimination that has taken place, and everything is hosted on our own servers, so everything is phat.
AllHipHop: I noticed, too, on the site that the track "Evil" from the album has a street version and a radio version. That kind of made me chuckle because I thought "does this stuff ever even get played on the radio?" Do you get any radio rotation?
Paris: This is the thing. Hip hop that gives you "meat" along with your beat, that gives you something to think about, progressive hip hop basically has been suppressed to the point where it has become so difficult to be heard that now there are organizations that are willing to just throw caution to the wind and play you regardless, even though it may not be company policy. On the Clear Channels and the Radio Ones, there are definitely stations that will get on board. I get tons of requests from educators who want to have radio playable versions available to share with their classes. This type of project is beyond the core hip hop audience because the message resonates with so many people. There was an Internet-only version of a song I did called "What Would You Do," also on Sonic Jihad, that basically paved the way for this entire project to happen.
AllHipHop: Yeah, that track is a call-to-action of sorts. Does that reflect your plan for change?
Paris: Yes, my plan is really to open people's eyes to what's going on. There are so many people in that brain dead state as a result of the propaganda they get hit with 24-7. Then that turns into a collective silencing of hip hop in general. There are few voices that have been allowed to be heard that are in direct opposition to the government on a wide scale. There are a lot of independent releases, but in general, mainstream hip hop artists are sitting on their hands. Of course, there is a big clamp down on these big corporate labels to suppress the content of artists when they want to speak out. I just grabbed the reigns and did my own thing.
AllHipHop: Let me read a quote from your September 2002 "War on Terror" essay from the website: "The information provided is intended as an alternative and sorely-needed point-of-view – a point-of-view which is in direct opposition to the corporate-sponsored propaganda machine we know as the U.S. media." What in your experience qualifies you to provide that "sorely-needed point-of-view" for public consumption?
Paris: It's really a sorely-needed point-of-view that's already out there. I am serving as a conduit of information at a centralized place. The information provided is available anywhere else on the Web, but it's done in a way that's user-friendly and interactive. It enables me to reach out directly, and there is a direct attempt to engage the hip hop audience as opposed to the mainstream target media audience. In terms of my qualifications, I’m educated – there's no difference between me or Sean Hannity or Anne Coulter or anyone else that's a media pundit. What qualifies a rapper to be able to make music? What qualifies somebody that's on TV? Do you need to be qualified with an education? I’m educated. I don't even really make a living rapping – this is more a labor of love, really, and the ability to be heard doing quality hip hop in an era where, all too often, we don't hear quality anymore.