By Tom Chandler, East Bay Express
Oakland rapper Paris lets his inner P-Funk shine on Acid Reflex.
Listening to Paris in 2008 is like walking on the edge of a razor blade. On one side of that slippery slope, the East Bay militant rap icon continues to espouse the anger and violent revolutionary tendencies he's famous for. On the other, as evident on his new album Acid Reflex, his music grooves and swirls and lifts. It seems clear that Paris' overall direction as a musician and beat-maker is heading toward club jams, so you balance somewhere between awareness and denial. And even if you err on the side of denial, hopefully, the hard truth infiltrates your brain anyway.
Paris has always had the funk, but now we're talking Funk with a P. Many tracks on Acid Reflex hew closer to a P-Funk kind of sound, with swirling funky keys and keyboard bass à la Bernie Worrell. (Check "True" or "Rebels Without Applause.") George Clinton himself, an avowed hero of Paris from his youth, appears on the remix of "Don't Stop the Movement." (Fellow guest Chuck D. delivers a verse on "Winter in America.") The P-Funk thing appears responsible for the new party vibe, as Dr. Funkenstein lets a little bit of sunshine into the darkness of Paris' worldview. It's like the revolution is going to have a dance club. You'll get caught up in the pumping beat, the Funk, and suddenly realize you're singing along to Real revolution, actual solution. Or when Hard Truth Soldier T-K.A.S.H. lays on a happy tune in the title song: When we say guerilla funk, we don't mean monkeys swinging on the vine. But even the man himself can let it out a bit: Bitch, it ain't Paris Hilton!
The other big dose of positivity, and possibly the biggest news story associated with any album this year, is Paris' Golden Tickets. Three copies of Acid Reflex will have Willy Wonka-style Golden Tickets worth $10,000 each, good for education or housing. "We want to involve people, create value for our community," Paris enthused. "With the Golden Ticket, it brings people in, it makes them want to support us. It's not the Lars Ulrich way of trying to prevent downloading!"
It's also clearly a way to get fans to actually buy the album. But can musicians still expect to sell records in this climate of declining record sales and economic chaos? In the liner notes of the album, Paris exhorts his fans to support real music by paying for it. "Realistically, a lot of people are going to get the music for free," he admitted, "but if we give back to the community then they're going to want to support us." And besides, he continued, the message will beg to be heard.
"Sonic Jihad came out at a critical time," he said, referring to his previous disc from 2003, "and Acid Reflex needs to come out now because of the way things are." Many of the songs deal directly with current politics and reference the Iraq war. (And one even takes the Reverend Jeremiah Wright's speech about chickens coming home to roost and sets it over an ominous groove. Take that, Obama and McCain!) Even though he returns to themes he's touched on many times before, including black-on-black violence, police brutality, violent revolution against the unjust American government, and the 9/11 conspiracy, Paris is never less than deft in his wordplay or charismatic in his storytelling, twisting even the expected socio-political discourse into something captivating.
To prepare for an album, he said, "I make a list of the topics I want to cover on the album. Some of them are tried-and-true, in terms of things I've covered before, like black-on-black violence, police corruption, and so on, but then I've got a song like 'The Hustle' that takes on organized religion." ("Fuck Rap, I can lead you from sin") The tried-and-true is there because nothing has changed. But he also is broadening his scope, name-checking Katrina as well as corporate greed, but just as often lashing out at everything within one song
Unlike the status quo in the rap world, Paris controls everything on his albums: he writes the lyrics, produces the tracks, controls the artwork, runs the label, and supervises the marketing. He's the proverbial one-man show and has been this way since the beginning, especially after his album Sleeping With the Enemy was rejected by Tommy Boy and his big encounter with the major labels went south. While many rappers want to control their business, few have it on lock like Paris' label Guerilla Funk.
The one exception to his DIY aesthetic is a distribution deal in 2006 with Fontana, a subsidiary of Universal — one of the biggest corporate music entities in the world. That puts him on the same distributor as Jay-Z or 50 Cent, two rappers who represent the kind of message he decries routinely in his lyrics. Isn't that sleeping with the enemy? "Four or five years ago I would have seen it that way," Paris considered. "It's worth it to use the system to get the message across."
Even still, he frequently rails against the motivations of the record industry, both on record and in interviews: "It's the industry keeping things artificially young and dumb," is his typical way to describe it. Which is partly why Paris is also active as a producer for acts like the Conscious Daughters (he has a new disc with them coming up), his 2006 collaboration with Public Enemy, Rebirth of a Nation, and his upcoming full-length collaboration with George Clinton (who still functions as a touring phenomenon, but not so much in the studio). "As long as you stay active, stay vital, as long as you have something to say, getting older doesn't mean you have to flame out," Paris said adamantly. And young or old, music still has the power to effect change.
"Think of it this way," he explained. "When I was growing up, I was listening to Parliament, and the Black Nationalist subtext of that, P.E., KRS-One, rappers who were political when it was the norm in hip-hop. Kids today know the words to songs before they know how to read. Before they know how to write! I'm not saying that gangster rap is responsible for the rise in violence in society, but it's one of the factors."
Paris clearly sees Guerrilla Funk as a community rather than a mere record label. On its web site, he outlines how to gain financial freedom, which ends with the step of reinvesting in your own community; he recommends books to read; he communicates with his fans. He's passionate about what he believes in and what he wants to communicate. So you can count on him to step up and speak on the hard truth, especially, like now, when it needs to be said. Only now, the Hard Truth is accompanied by an equally Hard Party. Get out and dance and join the revolution.