By Matt Jost, Rapreviews.com
Just perhaps there is a pattern to Paris’ discography. “The Devil Made Me Do It” (’89/’90) positioned him as rap’s spiritual heir to the Black Panthers. “Sleeping With the Enemy” (’92) can be seen as a response to Bush senior’s envisaged and partially enforced New World Order. “Guerrilla Funk” (’94) was Paris’ very own interpretation of the highly popular g-funk. “Unleashed” (’98) was his tribute to the streets and the local Bay Area scene and sound. “Sonic Jihad” (’03) was the post-9/11 statement. “Rebirth of a Nation” (with Public Enemy, ’05) pushed the overdue comeback of militant-minded rap. “Acid Reflex” (’08) set a contrast to the successful Obama presidential campaign. Not to claim that each of his returns is akin to Moses coming down from Mount Sinai, but it seems that every now and then the time is due for a new Paris album.
If you can’t see what Paris’ business is in 2015, you’ve been living under the proverbial rock for the last three and a half years. That young black men are systematically criminalized by the penal system and police forces isn’t the worst part, but it’s one aspect of America’s social inequality where the disadvantages become glaringly apparent. Despite vehemently pushing a political agenda for so many years, Paris does not discuss political processes or power structures at length. Standing his ground on the front line and therefore assuming that the language of violence is the only one that the enemy understands, he tackles the issue of police brutality head-on, commanding the violent rhetoric to react to brute force. On “Pistol Politic”‘s title track he runs down a manual on how to interact (or not) with police, suggesting to retaliate in kind, to (slyly making a vitriolic reference to the language of lawmakers) “let the punishment fit the crime.”
To quote from his debut, Paris keeps “pushing that movement rock,” to the point where he deems it necessary to distance said (pro-black) movement from the Occupy movement. Also on “Pistol Politics” he raps:
“Every day we see the way they always do us
The ‘99%’ is talkin’, but does that include us?
9 times out of 10 our problems deal with shootin’
I’ve got ’99 problems’, but I can’t confuse ’em
The real shit is who dies and who’s cryin’?
Whose lives always touched in a clutch of violence?
Immortalized on a t-shirt, hear the sirens
Hella straps for these young cats – who’s supplyin’?
All I care about is violence in our neighborhoods
It’s all silence when it comes to stiflin’ the hoods
It’s all silence when it comes to violence in the hood
Cryin’ ‘Trayvon’ but every day it’s on in blood”
The deliberate tunnel vision is also applied to Barack Obama, albeit he does go into some detail with his analysis on “Change We Can Believe In.” The verdict is no less damning, Paris labeling the president a Manchurian Candidate and concluding, “Wingnuts wanna point and say I told you so / We both hate the shit, but for different reasons, though / They hate cause he black, we hate cause he wrong.”
From Occupy to Obama, “Pistol Politics” deals with current events (“Engage” even mentions Charleston killer Dylann Roof). That some songs evoke strong deja-vus is not necessarily the rapper’s fault. Still, Paris is clearly nowhere near the age group that calls the tune for rap in 2015. Once a representative of the fledgling rap generation, he is now (by his own admission as well) old school. Rap listeners who had their awareness raised by artists such as Kendrick Lamar or Lupe Fiasco will not instantly connect with Paris. Eschewing self-doubt in favor of one more slogan, he sticks to his talking points, to the effect that he sometimes resembles a politician stereotype himself. Alternatively, he comes across like an aged activist, still hanging on to old dogmas.
Even so, Paris sounds reinvigorated on his seventh solo album, rapping with technical proficiency and arranging intricate lines with internal rhymes. The performance is not effortless, but that’s probably not his intention, to begin with, as he wants you to be a witness to the struggle. “Lethal Warning Shot” is an effective opener, a buzzing bassline underpinned by percussive drums and Paris rapping with a determination that is practically inexistent these days. As the title of the song suggests, it’s supposed to catch you off guard, but there’s also an element of impatience on Paris’ part, as if he didn’t have the time to explain things all over again.
P-Dog doesn’t omit putting the funk in Guerrilla Funk with “Bring That Slap Back,” which is interspersed with interpolations of funk staples as Paris flexes a solid, sufficiently tricky ’90s flow. “Truce Music” touches down in the same time period, except that P uses the smooth version of funk to reintroduce the idea of a gang truce – “like the Crips and Bloods in nine-deuce.” Whereas “Truce Music” features a potent hook, “Buck, Buck, Pass” could use a more memorable one, particularly as the song is an ambitious analysis of the role of firearms in American society.
For the most part, Paris reels off his platform with proven methods. “Night of the Long Knives” plots against police, suggesting that it’s time for some action: “No more speeches, candles, no marchin’ / No more grievin’ parents, no Sharpton / No more calls for peace, let’s spark it.” The first track to really dial it down to a mellow level, “Brown Eyes,” refined by Claytoven Richardson’s falsetto, finds words of encouragement for young black women. The cleverly titled “Give the Summer Drums” is a soft, subtle mix in the mold of the Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince classic, the Bay version of “Summertime,” so to speak, a good-natured Paris giving it up to “these new school dudes and they YouTube views.” Since we’re on the topic of different modes of expression, one intriguing detail is the deadpan delivery in “Change We Can Believe In,” which creates an interesting contrast to the usual up-in-arms antics and boosts the song’s seriousness. Also, the back-to-back “Murder Suit” and “Side Effect” recall Ice Cube’s “Death Certificate,” the way they address problems through first-person narratives.
The difference is that Paris’ approach is always calculated. Paris is in many ways the antithesis to today’s rap star. A crucial one is that he has a plan. To pursue a specific agenda, however, can be detrimental to artistic expression. “Pistol Politics” suffers from it, even when taking into account that this is not your average rap record. He makes do with diligent writing and varied topics, but it’s hard to see past the length of the entire thing, the endless accusations and the abundance of robotic grooves. Whenever “Pistol Politics” has more bounce and/or lessens the pressure, it becomes more relevant overall. That’s not to take away from “Lethal Warning Shot” or “Night of the Long Knives”, rather the effect of these attacks is enhanced by the cease-fire. Further positives include Paris the producer’s compulsion to flesh out his tracks with details (more than once a sax or a flute pops up), or the fact that despite lamenting the loss of ‘manhood’, he doesn’t resort to dumb homophobia like some of his peers.
Throughout “Pistol Politics” Paris makes no pretence about wanting to reach young people. The album doesn’t sound like it, though. As timely as a song like “Search Warrant” featuring Tha Eastsidaz, WC, E-40, and KAM may be lyrically, there’s little chance youngsters will be checking for it. For fans of the man, however, this is the album they’ve been waiting for. Agree with him or not, Paris remains one of the premier political rap artists.