By J. Quintella, Soulsandsounds.com
In the midst of an economic collapse, an endless war, and the flux of Election 2008, the Black Panther of rap spits up an Acid Reflex.
It would be too easy when playing the "where are they now?" game with golden-era Hip Hop, to relegate Bay Area militant emcee Paris to the footnote dustbin of the conversation.
With only his 1990 Tommy Boy debut The Devil Made Me Do It and firestorm second album single "Bush Killa" receiving vigorous national promotion, only hardcore Paris fans and rap music archivists clearly remember his other two album offerings in that same decade.
And, if you disqualify Cube for his N.W.A. beginnings and later transformation into a successful Hollywood brand, you are left with Paris as the only career political rapper to come out of Cali (of course, The Coup gets big-ups as the only group to do so).
So, where is he now? It seems very appropriate that the events of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq brought about the resurgence of Paris' mission and message.
In 2003, he independently launched Guerilla Funk Recordings and released his incendiary return to the music industry via the full-length album Sonic Jihad. Featuring a Photoshop rendered cover that depicts a jumbo jet headed straight for the White House, Paris was back...and in fine fashion.
More than just a vanity label, it appeared Paris was building Guerilla Funk into the new base camp for post 9/11 Hip Hop commentary--recruiting Dead Pres, Kam, and N.W.A.'s MC Ren to join him on Hard Truth Soldiers Vol. I--a compilation album that serves well as a companion piece to Jihad. Guerilla Funk hit a stride in 2006 however, when Paris and Public Enemy united for the completely Paris-produced (and also mostly penned) disc Rebirth of A Nation. The project marked the first time Public Enemy went outside of their internal production team on a full-length set, and contains some powerful and effective nuggets of classic PE.
Now, as this decade and a historic election cycle draw to a close, Paris introduces T-K.A.S.H., a Northern California emcee and radio host who signed to Guerilla Funk several years back, and drops his own Acid Reflex--a critical summation of the state of U.S. and world affairs in the last few years. The CD is Paris' sixth studio album in the course of a career that has spanned nearly 20 years.
It was fitting that I caught up with Paris by phone on the Saturday before what turned out to be a precedent-setting election of the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama. I had promised his publicist a "quick, 15-20 minute interview"; but as we were only separated by about 100 miles, the gloomy weather on both ends allowed us to settle in and chop it up for nearly two hours. For a rapper whose bailiwick has been scathing diatribes about the illegal foundation and continued injustices of America, I was struck right away by his easiness--and his, at times, lighthearted and jovial nature. I couldn't help but start with a few pokes for his thoughts on the pending election...
S&S: Man, we are definitely witnessing history being made...in a way, I think the media has become the third candidate in this race. Speak on that, if you could.
Paris: Oh, definitely. Man, politics is pop culture now. Back in previous election cycles, people had to rely on TV and reading as their primary information sources. There are so many more outlets; the 24-hour cable news channels, the Internet...
S&S: ...and the spin--it's like you get so weary of the talking points on both sides...
Paris: Well, you got Fox News...you know how they get down; you got MSNBC...leans to the left, and CNN which tries to cover the middle. Man, what it is with Barack Obama is that it opens up a new political arena...Obama is really on some chess, not checkers! But I'm hoping there is a Trojan horse element...we'll see. You have to embrace certain things to get in.
S&S: Absolutely. But, after this election, for the first time in my life, I really think it's time for a real third party in this country...
Yeah, well the only reason third parties aren't viable is that they have no money. But, these people thinking there is no difference between parties is bullshit! What makes people hesitant is Obama is getting co-signed by too many Republicans...Wall Street firms are endorsing him 5 to 1--makes me worry about Obama...who he's beholden to. But I know what the alternative is.
S&S: ...alright, I don't want to beat you over the head with politics; I know you get enough of that. I wanted to ask you something I've never heard in a Paris interview: How did you get that first deal with Tommy Boy?
Paris: Yeah, I was going to school at UC Davis. I had been self-financing my own albums by painting cars. Someone had told me about a video producer in the Bay; her name was Madeline Vela. She had done Too $hort, she had done Digital Underground...I contacted her about a video. Now, I was supposed to meet her in October of â€˜89. This is important--it was Thursday; I was watching the World Series when the earthquake hit (the 1989 Loma Prieta quake--ed.). Everything was fucked up, so I couldn't make it. A few days later, she had me meet her at a video shoot for the Humpty Dance. So, I'm at the shoot, and I meet Rodd Houston--the video rep for Tommy Boy. I gave him my cassette; he got on a plane back to New York and gave my tape to Monica Lynch...she signed me. Check this out: the video hit in April 1990, I graduated from UC Davis in June...everything went crazy; the rest is history
S&S: O.K., so now it's 1992--time to release Sleeping With The Enemy. By now you've got the whole thing going on with C. Delores Tucker, Bill Bennett, and Time/Warner. Did Tommy Boy just cave to all of the pressure at that time surrounding rap? And, looking back, how would your career have been different if the second album got the same "major label" promotional push as the first?
Paris: No...there was a great run-up to the second album because of the controversy. It was basically me and Ice T with "Cop Killa" on the national stage...everybody wanted the album, but nobody could do it--they had to account to their shareholders. MTV banned the video, so we put it out on Scarface and it sold very well...lots of albums sold, that's what led to the Priority Records deal. Yeah, I guess I always wondered what my career trajectory had been if I had been on a major. I suppose that I would have had a larger reach, but I don't think there is any other way that I would have learned what I know now, had I been on a major.
S&S: In many ways, you resurrected your movement in 2003 with Sonic Jihad and the launch of Guerilla Funk Records, along with the Hard Truth Soldier compilations. With the Bush administration on the way out, and America about to elect her first Black President, will the message of Acid Reflex still carry the same urgency?
Paris: Oh, no doubt. It's not a done deal yet; conditions are worse now than they have ever been. The buzzword of the campaign has been "change"; it doesn't mean that this change is going to happen any time soon. Jobs are thin; racial discrimination is at an all-time high, racial intolerance is at an all-time high. We got illegal wars going unchecked, propaganda...all remain unchecked--even in the face of an Obama administration. All the times we have gone to war it has been a country of color...these things never stop. I'm asked why I make these records; it's because America speaks to violence. I have to do the same--if I threaten Bush, I'm in the Washington Post. It may seem easy to pigeonhole me as profiting off of the tragedy of 9/11, but no one has benefited more than the U.S. government. So, it's like, do you really want to talk about these issues or just fake posturing? People want to hear re-affirmation of what they already believe...left and right. But there will always be someone who is unhappy; there will always be a certain segment of the progressive movement that will not be satisfied.
S&S: I've heard you discuss production methods and the generally poor quality of Hip Hop in recent years--something I agree with you on totally, by the way. If you could, speak on that and your thoughts about the current state of the music industry--good and bad.
Paris: Well, there has been an overall effect on the sound; it went from urgent, to laid back gangsta funk...music to blaze to, basically. Art is only effective when it makes you feel something; the objective today is to sell something--how can we homogenize this to make it a commodity. It's possible for anybody now to produce music, no matter how bad it is...
S&S: Yes, that's a big part of the problem; these young cats today go to Guitar Center, buy some software, and now they are a "producer"...
Paris: Yeah, but you have to be careful too...not to become the "Get off my lawn" crowd. But there is an inherent loss of quality and respect for music in general. Younger generations have a sense of entitlement to music because they havenâ€˜t had to pay for it. Mediocrity has become the standard and there has been a confluence of events that led to a loss of quality overall. The economics of the music industry don't allow an artist to fine-tune, so you have manufactured groups like the Pussycat Dolls. As far as Guerilla Funk, it represents my effort to restore balance and honesty to music. I was conditioned early on to do my own music, negotiate my own business; I learned in a very real life way what was acceptable and what wasn't.
S&S: We're just about to the end here; we've gone way past what I promised your publicist, but I want to ask you, what's the significance to the title of the new album?
Paris: Yeah, Acid Reflex is my acidic response to what has been going on ...it's a venomous comment on the state of affairs, globally and locally.
S&S: Alright man, I have to tell you: it has been a pleasure--thank you very much for taking time out, I really appreciate it. Hey, is there anything we did not cover that you want to get out to the readers of SoulsandSounds.com?
Paris: Oh man, anytime! Thank you for searching me out! I encourage people to demand more from their entertainment. And go to the Website and subscribe to www.guerillafunk.com.