By Richard Harrington, The Washington Post
"I am not an assassin and 'Bush Killa' is not an assassination attempt," Oakland rapper Paris insists. I am an artist and and 'Bush Killa' is a song."
"Bush Killa," in fact, is a cut from Paris' new, independently released album, "Sleeping With the Enemy," on which he envisions stalking and slaying the president - whom he blames for policies that have blocked civil rights gains, encouraged racism and provoked genocidal neglect.
In what stands as the most extreme example so far of a rapper's rage against the powers that be, the album's inner sleeve photo shows an armed Paris waiting to ambush George Bush in front of the Capitol. The song ends with a Bush speech halted by gunfire.
The White House yesterday declined to comment on the song, and a spokesman for the Secret Service, which is charged with protecting the president, said, "We're aware of it, and we're not commenting."
But Paris and the American Civil Liberties Union don't expect others to be so circumspect -"particularly those who think the record violates statutes that make threatening. the president's life a crime. In an extraordinary move, the ACLU issued a statement in conjunction with the release of the' album last week calling any moves to suppress or prosecute Paris "politically wrongheaded and constitutionally indefensible."
"The Secret Service has no need to contact us," says 25-year-old Paris, whose real name is Oscar Jackson and who graduated from the University of California in 1990 with a degree in economics. He admits the song was designed to spark controversy but says "This is nothing but art."
"Bush Killa," the ACLU says in a statement, is just "the latest in a series of angry, highly political songs by African-American artists who dramatize scenes of racial injustice...It does not violate laws prohibiting incitement or solicitation of unlawful acts, nor does it contravene the federal law criminalizing threats against the president...As an artist and political radical, Paris has a First Amendment right to express his rage towards the president and even to advocate armed revolution."
And, Cummings adds, "this song does not constitute real advocacy. Like [Ice-T's] 'Cop Killer,' it's a first-person narrative describing one person's circumstances in which he's been led to the decision that he's going to do this thing. He's not telling people to do it."
"We're taking an offensive stance," says Paris. "We're not going to be caught in the same, position that Ice-T and Time Warner were earlier this year. Our position is that it's not illegal, it's art and nobody can shut it down because we're independently owned and manufactured." Boycott threats against Time Warner companies led lce-T to withdraw the "Cop Killer" song from his album.
Paris went independent after Tommy Boy (a label owned by Warner Bros. Records) paid him an undisclosed but low six-figure sum to compensate him for not releasing the album. The settlement allowed him to finance his already existing record label, Scarface, which is being distributed through an independent network.
Paris remains signed to the Tommy Boy label, but in the wake of the "Cop Killer" controversy, Warner Bros. and other major labels began scrutinizing rap albums more closely. Time Warner executives, leery of a cop-killing song titled "Coffee, Donuts and Death" on Paris' album, as well as its proposed artwork, refused to release the album. At the time, Paris says, they were unaware of the "Bush Killa" cut.
The rapper, whose politically charged 1990 album, "The Devil Made Me Do It, sold a quarter of a million copies had wanted "SIeeping with the Enemy" to come out before the presidential election. He hoped "Bush Killa" would become an election issue so he could "interject my own agenda into this debate. What Warner Bros. Records did was systematically delay me until post-election."
Paris, who styles himself as the Black Panther of Rap says his efforts to shop the album to other labels were stifled.
Island Record chief Chris Blackwell, who also oversees the PoIygram distributed label 4th and B'way, says he wanted to release "Sleeping with the Enemy," which he calls a "brilliant and important record." Blackwell says he scheduled it for release two weeks before the election. But after Polyfram's legal department in London reviewed the lyrics, according to Blackwell, CEO Alan Levy expressed grave doubts about the Iegality of many of the songs on the album, adding, "The strict legalities apart, we have to be sensitive to the current political climate in the United States, particularly in the light of the lce-T experience." Levy then declined to allow 4th and B'way to release the album
After the settlement, Paris contacted the ACLU's Arts Censorship Project. While deploring the very idea of assassinating the president, the ACLU calls "Bush Killa" a political protest, not "a meaningful threat."
Paris himself doesn't expect "Bush Killa" to receive any airplay. "It's not a commercial release at all, it's just an album track. It was intended so we could have access to the media."
Paris, incidentally, voted for Bill Clinton on Nov, 3 and says, I just hope he never gives me reason to write 'Clinton Killa.'"