Sheep to tha Slaughter - Part 1
ThaFormula.com - First off Paris, I'm happy to see you back and I must say I'm impressed with the album...
Paris - Thank you very much, it's good to be back. I’ve been told by a few people that it represents my best work. It's been a labor of love and it's been an uphill struggle making it come to fruition.
ThaFormula.com - You were one of the few artists that seemed ahead of his time as far as your production, subject matter, and all that…
Paris - Thank you. I do know one thing man, back in the day when I first started, progressive Hip-Hop was much more commonplace then it is now. If you came back then the way a lot of these cats come now, you would get thrown off the stage. It's a completely different situation. You know everybody was about power to the people, black power, and uplifting. You were kind of the odd man out if you came talkin’ the shit that these cats come talkin’ now. But you know, things have changed obviously for the worst for those of us that are conscious and drastic measures need to be taken to reclaim that which we created. I think "Sonic Jihad" is a big step towards that. With the proper exposure, it has the potential to be a game-changing kind of project. We will see, but I put 110 percent into it and like I said, it's a labor of love, blood, sweat, and tears just to make it to this point. So I’m blessed to be able to get down and I appreciate everybody that's taken the time out to hear it and support. It comes out online and in stores on September 23rd.
ThaFormula.com – You’re right, times have changed and Hip-Hop's in a bad situation right now...
Paris - Really what it is now is that everything has become so corporatized that black culture is being dictated to black people by white corporations ‘cause they’re the ones who select who gets exposure, and consequently they are the ones who reward a particular type of behavior - and that's what we see. Every time you turn on the television, every time you look at BET (which is a white-owned corporation), anytime you look at MTV or any of these video channels that have videos that are manufactured by white-owned corporations, you see this imagery that 9 times out of 10 is negative for us, and 9 times out of ten reflects us in a way that we don't necessarily behave. It's a catch-22 type of situation because, in so-called minority communities, life imitates art, so we act the way that we see on TV. Most kids in school - high school and middle school - know the lyrics to songs more then they know their schoolwork. Everybody that's reading this interview knows how influential music is when it comes to us, and so when there is almost a type of blanket negativity that exists in the music then you see it havin’ negative ramifications on us in real life, and that's the most disturbing thing. I mean everybody that came from my era who was puttin’ it down when it was me and PE and X-Clan and Krs and a whole lot of folks, we saw the positive impact the music that we did had. I get emails to this day from people who say that "The Devil Made Me Do It" and "Sleeping with the Enemy" were life-altering experiences for them because it made them look at things differently and made them approach situations differently. It made them more aware of themselves and how they fit into America's racist structure. I can only imagine what kind of influence that a lot of what is going on now is havin’ on folks that are comin’ up. It's a frightening thing. It's genocidal actually.
ThaFormula.com - Now let's take it back to the beginning. If I remember you had just graduated from a University before droppin’ your album...
Paris - Yeah, I'm born and raised in San Francisco and you know I always bounced around the Bay Area. I went to school in San Francisco and I went onto college at the University of California Davis. I graduated with a degree in Economics in ’90. In November of ‘89, I met Rodd Houston from Tommy Boy and gave him a tape of the initial few songs off "The Devil Made Me Do It." He took it back and Tommy Boy flew me out to New York at the end of ‘89 and I signed on with them. That first single was top ten before I graduated, so I was one of the fortunate few that had a job waiting for on him when he got out of school. So I just rolled with it for years and years. I upped the ante with "Sleeping with the Enemy" which was the next project, and at the time there was this fall out with Warner Music behind "Cop Killer" which was from Ice-T's Body Count record. That in effect prevented me from being able to put "Sleeping with the Enemy" out because Tommy Boy was owned by Warner Music at the time. So I took the settlement money that was offered and I put it out through Scarface records, which was a label that I started on the fly just to get in the place to be able to do everything that I needed to do. But that was a huge learning experience for me, and I made the common mistake of hiring a bunch of folks that I knew, trying to look out for folks and provide jobs. But the organization was too big for the product that we had comin’ through. Ideally, you are supposed to have a staff that supports the records that you put out. My situation was that the records were supportin’ the staff. We couldn't put out stuff fast enough to keep the staff crackin’. So I ended up movin’ the operation over to Priority with the "Guerrilla Funk" album.
ThaFormula.com - You know one of the reasons why I remember you havin’ a degree was ‘cause people were makin’ a big deal out of the fact that you had a degree. It's like it wasn't possible that a minority could have a degree in Hip-Hop...
Paris - Oh yeah and also keep in mind too that there was such a stigma attached to rap back then and rap at that time was an underground phenomenon. For those who can remember when Hip-Hop wasn't on the radio. It was a struggle to get Hip-Hop played on the radio. Now Hip-Hop is pop culture. That's the main difference. You hear Neptunes beats on McDonald's commercials, none of that existed back then. I can remember being on the road and many, many stations had the tag line that they didn't play Hip-Hop and that was something that they were proud of. It took a long time for Hip-Hop to break through to the mainstream. As far as the degree for me, it's important to have - it's always important - especially if you’re inspiring artists...to have a fallback position. I’m a big proponent of this because nothing could be counted on in music. You never really know how the chips are gonna fall and if you’re a musician - even if you own and control and operate everything that you do - you’re still at the mercy of the buyer. Your livelihood is still determined by how much somebody likes you. That's a dangerous position to be in. I mean, I got grown-up concerns now, multiple mortgages, a wife and child and school tuition and everything that goes along with being older and I cannot allow myself to be in a position where music is my sole source of income, especially in this environment that is so constrictive with regards to voices of dissent. It's just becoming more and more difficult to be heard. Clear Channel and Radio One own all the radio stations and commercial radio is a very hard nut to crack but is a very necessary part of the game if you wanna have mass exposure. So it's a catch-22 right now because I’m comin’ from a position where I don't wanna participate in any of that. I don't wanna give any of my money to these magazines that aid in the genocide. I don't wanna give any of my money to radio promotions and stations that aid in the genocide. I also understand that it's a necessary evil to deal with these folks on some level because that's where the exposure comes from. It's needed, so to a certain extent you got to play the game, but there are certain things in music that I simply won't tolerate and that I will no longer even lend an ear to.
ThaFormula.com - What was the response back then to "Sleeping with the Enemy" when you dropped it?
Paris - Thus far, it's my highest seller and I think that it was because it was more focused then it's predecessor "The Devil Made Me Do It," and because quite honestly it had the controversy that went along with it. It was uncompromising and unapologetic in its anger, so when I approached making "Sonic Jihad" I told myself that I wanted to do a 2003 version of "Sleeping with the Enemy."
ThaFormula.com – A lot of people don't realize that you brought out Conscious Daughters and that you produced that first album with that huge hit single "Funky Expedition"...
Paris - Yeah that did well, especially because you have to understand we’re talkin’ about different times before Hip-Hop was as mainstream as it is. But for them to do damn near 300,000 units and be a female group was big.
ThaFormula.com - What was the response on the East Coast to your albums? I mean did a lot of people know about you or your albums out there at the time?
Paris - Well "The Devil Made Me Do It" was introduced by an East Coast label, you know Tommy Boy. So "The Devil Made Me Do It" and "Sleeping with the Enemy" were embraced wholeheartedly by just about everybody in hip-hop. Chuck Chillout was instrumental in breaking both of those records out there. Whether or not they would be onboard now is anybody's best guess ‘cause again, the game has changed.
ThaFormula.com - So after "Sleeping with the Enemy" what did you do after that?
Paris - With Priority, I put the "Guerrilla Funk" record out which was a different turn musically for me, but content-wise I was still on the same page. I never really wanted to be in a position where I’m trapped in a box musically.
ThaFormula.com - How do you feel that album came out?
Paris - You know artistically I’m happy with it. All of these projects, in retrospect, if I had to do differently, would be changed somewhat. I think the production on "The Devil Made Me Do It" and "Sleeping with the Enemy" could be improved on, and in fact, all of my previous albums are being re-released as deluxe editions on November 18th (The Devil Made Me Do It, Sleeping With The Enemy, Guerrilla Funk, Unleashed Combo) with reworked lyrics and with digitized production - cleaned up and done the way that I always envisioned them. There were always people involved in the past in the manufacturing process that did things that I didn't know how to do, you know, like make the artwork. I Didn't know how to program as well as I know how to program now so I was kind of at the mercy of what came out of the machine like a lot of people that consider themselves producers are today. But now it's a completely different situation. I can fund everything that I do. I own all of my stuff. I just wanna be like George Lucas basically and go back and tighten up the shit that I always wanted to be a particular way and make it right. Just have a rock-solid catalog.
ThaFormula.com - Now you were back then, and still are one of the few MC/Producers. You do it all yourself. On all your albums you have produced them completely, is there any reason why you never got any other producers involved in your projects?
Paris - First of all, all of this has been a trial and error type of a thing for me. Each record sonically is intended to get progressively better. So when you hear "The Devil Made Me Do It," the sounds that you hear on that record are sounds that I was just fortunate enough to have comin’ out of the machine that I was workin’ with. It wasn't anything that was like a deliberate undertaking. But now I have a complete mastery of the studio process so I’m able to go back and make everything the way I want it, to make it big, to make it good, and to make it solid and timeless. That's the main difference between now and then.
ThaFormula.com - I also used to notice that your production was different even back then from everyone else…
Paris - Yeah, well you know I think that I had a sound that I wanted to convey and you know my music is dark. Moody soundscapes have always been what I thought Hip-Hop should be. When Hip-Hop is at it's best, it is aggressive and it is something that elicits emotion and moves people one way or another. That's what I think is so wrong with most music now, but really with Hip-Hop. It doesn't make you feel anything. You listen to shit that's on the radio now and it's like ughhh…I'll take it or leave it, it's no big deal. Yeah, we can dance to it but who gives a fuck. I wanna hear something that's gonna hit me in the chest and make me either hella mad, disgusted, sad or make me feel good about us as a people, but it should do something. All art should do that or it's not art. Generic cookie-cutter music is not art to me, that's just commerce. There has always been this great debate about art versus commerce and I wholeheartedly believe that if you focus on the art intensely enough, the commerce will take care of itself. The one disturbing trend that I’m noticing most of all now is that most artists treat the listeners like shit. They talk about what they don't have and then they make fun of them for not being able to afford the inflated CD prices that they pay for the shitty music they produce so I don't understand it. I think that now more then ever especially when music is available for free, it's on the artist to endear themselves to the public.
ThaFormula.com - It's like it ain't even our music no more man…
Paris - You know what I’m sayin’? So what I wanna do man is create a situation. Like my website (www.guerillafunk.com). I’ve created a situation where I'm giving something back. I wanna give information back and create a centralized place where you can get alternative forms of information from sources other than the shit that you get on TV. You can't just pimp the game and expect shit to last forever. That's not how it works. You have to give something back to the consumer and put yourself in a position where they feel for you and they wanna see you succeed and they wanna be a part of what you got going on and that's what the whole objective of what I’m doing right now is.
ThaFormula.com - Now when I mention the name Paris to anybody the first thing they say or think of is "Bush Killa." Let's talk about that track and did you get many problems because of the name?
Paris - Oh yeah, but the reason behind it was because at the time we were entering into a presidential election in 1992 and there was absolutely no dialog going on regarding conditions in oppressed communities in America. Everything was very generic, topics that didn't touch on the hardship that people in the inner city feel, and I knew that with the fallout with Ice-T that that would be a way to inject that dialog into mainstream America's consciousness. What ended up happening was the record was suppressed until after the election. So it bounced around from Tommy Boy to Def American, to 4th and Broadway and Atlantic. But all of those were controlled by Warner in some respect or at least they were at the time, so they blocked its release. I had to threaten suit to get control of the masters and to get some dough to walk with because they were affecting my livelihood. So they gave me some money to walk with and I started Scarface Records. But yeah that was a situation where eyebrows were raised and people were talkin’ about what's going on.
ThaFormula.com - So "Sleeping With The Enemy" came out, then "Guerrilla Funk." What happened from there?
Paris - Well Master P came over to Priority and there was much more of a focus of trying to capitalize on this new gangsta material that was happening. The other thing too is while I was at Priority there were three complete changes in the makeup of the staff, so their retention was low, which made me concerned about long-standing relationships and how effective they were gonna be at working product. It just became more and more difficult to get budgets approved, and more and more difficult for me to get artwork approved. It was just apparent that they wanted me to go in a direction that I didn't wanna go in, but it wasn't a situation where there were any problems. It was just mutual parting ways which was cool, and I pretty much walked away from it for those 2 or 3 years after I left there. It was just a time where everybody was just losin’ it.
ThaFormula.com - It seems like a lot of people just walked away from Hip-Hop at that same time and it just makes me wonder if that was the worst mistake we could have made?
Paris - Maybe so, but also keep in mind that as more and more negative shit became more and more successful, it pretty much set the stage for everything that was to come after that. I look at is as music that appeals to the lowest common denominator in us is always gonna do the best.
ThaFormula.com - That's why it keeps me wondering what would have happened if so many people wouldn't have walked away cause it seems like 99 percent of the people that were listening back then never came back?
Paris - But I mean, listen to what most Hip-Hop has to offer. I don't listen to most Hip-Hop now. I mean I think that "Sonic Jihad" is an effective record but in general, am I bumpin’ shit that's played on the radio? Hell nah. That's not the kind of shit that I’m into. The sad part is that it represents 99 percent of what's out there.
ThaFormula.com - Do you think that we let this happen though?
Paris - See the shit that hits on the street is always gonna be the aggressive shit. It's only now that the street is being dictated by corporations that pander to and cater to adolescent girls, that Hip-Hop has changed so drastically. In general man, the shit that's on the street that's hittin’ is the shit that's the rawest like you had back in the day. Back then Cool J was the nigga to beat for a long time and then it was Rakim and then it was PE and then it was always that cutting edge aggressive music that held the rock. You know Cube in his heyday and that aggression - raw as fuck. Hip-Hop is nutless right now! I don't pass judgment on any artist, but it's no secret that Hip-Hop does not pack the punch that it used to. So I don't count on this income for my livelihood. That being said, a record like my new album "Sonic Jihad" is absolutely a labor of love. How is it going to be perceived? How is it going to be received? I have no idea. I know that it represents a type of a lost art of aggression that we haven't had in a while and I'm definitely blessed to be able to have made it this far because I was told no at damn near every turn when puttin’ it together. Thanks for providin’ me with a voice. Please visit me at www.guerrillafunk.com, subscribe, and drop me a line.
ThaFormula.com - Up Next, Part 2!!