Songs We Love: Paris, 'Lethal Warning Shot'
By Kris Ex, Npr.org
"Stop acting like the Black movement is past tense" Paris snarls on "Lethal Warning Shot," the opening number from Pistol Politics, his new album. And the snarl is important — the snarl is the differentiating factor. The snarl is everything. Over the past quarter-century, the Bay Area rapper has never deviated from the blackprint he laid out with 1990's The Devil Made Me Do It, a militant, streetwise, reality-aware, self-reliant Black nationalism that's heavily indebted to the political stances of the Black Panther Party, down to the continued usage of "pigs" as terminology for the police. Nothing is new here, but everything sounds fresh and current — updated even.
It's fair to say that the career of the man born Oscar Jackson, Jr. rests somewhere between the booming rhetoric of Public Enemy and the Molotov cocktail rhymes of dead prez; but that also requires a bit of reverse engineering, since Paris' music has always been more ballistic than PE and more local than dead prez. He took Chuck D's political awareness and injected it with the ground-level relevancy that dead prez would further refine and refract through a prism of worldwide resistance. But neither group had the snarl.
Coupled with acute rap sensibilities and informed political views, the snarl is what separates Paris from most "conscious" rappers. He's not preachy or pedantic, nor is he vested in having a dialogue, let alone building a coalition. ("Nope, it's not the Occupy movement," he declares. "Thanks, but no thanks—I already know the truth/ and was very well acquainted with the term 'revolution'.") His gaze is stark, putting the freedom and survival of Blacks as the summum bonum. This is why he can refer to himself as "the needle in your sandwich" looking to spill "blood on behalf of the lower middle classes," while spitting "real spit, to keep us out of coffins" without any sense of hyperbole. The world in which Paris lives is one that has moved beyond interpretation: the history and statistics surrounding black lives in America, and the continued denial of those narratives make his extremist position not only logical, but necessary.
The music — long branded as "guerrilla funk" — backs up his every step. It's urgent, powered by an erratic, eerie synth drone and vocal flourishes that sound like those pieces of George Clinton's funk Mothership that fell off as it left Earth's orbit, repurposed as the fortifications on a battle-ready Buick Regal scraper. Then there are oversized drum smacks, gun blasts, ticks, clacks, and aggressively squiggly scratches reminiscent of the Bomb Squad, but stripped down to only include mission-critical elements. Paris refers to this as "return of the D.R.O.P. Squad" — and in sound and effect, in accomplishment and confidence, it's an approach not often seen in hip-hop these days.
If Public Enemy immortalized the idea that "freedom is a road seldom traveled by the multitude," Paris is here to ask, "How many of us left?" The answer, from a cursory glance at the rap Internet, would be "not enough." The lyrics for "Lethal Warning Shot" are not on Genius, and his last few albums have not been deemed worthy of individual Wikipedia entries. That verity is what makes "Lethal Warning Shot" even more essential and effective, justifying Paris' continued snarl and lack of patience for traditional warnings. With diminishing numbers of rappers and fans firing for freedom, aiming bullets in the air is a luxury he can't afford. Every single drop of the hammer has to count.
Pistol Politics is out now Guerrilla Funk.