Paris: The Politics Of Paris
Friday, 8 August 2008
He may share his first name with a vacuous socialite, but San Francisco's Paris (aka Oscar Jackson Jr) represents the real - the dispossessed and the disenfranchised.
Paris was a pioneering 'hardcore' rapper.
The MC belongs to the militant tradition of Public Enemy but, saliently, was also influenced by gangsta rap - a music originally about rebellion, not merely sensationalism.
Paris is complex. Indeed, with an economics degree from the University of California, he's worked in banking. More 50 Mill than 50 Cent, Paris perceives himself today as a Robin Hood. However, hip hop would be his calling. And, while he's expressed disillusionment with the culture in the past, ironically, that malaise has made him more relevant than ever.
"I'm still disillusioned with hip hop!," Paris affirms. "It doesn't stop. Things are just getting progressively worse - which means that there's an even greater opening for what I do."
Paris' career is defined by struggle. He's typically summed up as a "black nationalist rapper". Yet Paris has evolved into a cogent, socially-conscious MC with a global and humanistic outlook.
Paris premiered in 1990 with The Devil Made Me Do It from the album of the same title. MTV banned that single. The MC endured a rocky relationship with his label, Tommy Boy, which, at the behest of its parent, Warner, eventually dropped him. The final straw- The provocative content of Paris' sophomore, Sleeping With The Enemy. Bush Killa was a vengeful fantasy narrative about assassinating President George Bush. (Incidentally, a green DJ Shadow contributed beats to the LP.)
Paris then chose the indie route... His third album, Guerrilla Funk, surfaced on Priority. Again, he battled corporate politics. Paris returned to the underground, this time for good, building his own stable, Guerrilla Funk Recordings, which in 2006 yielded Rebirth Of A Nation, a compelling collaboration with Public Enemy.
Nas might be leading a protest against arch conservative media commentator Bill O'Reilly, but Paris, mindful of heightened censorship in the US, has created an alternative outlet in Guerrilla Funk. The website offers topical essays on issues like Jeremiah Wright's depiction as 'pastor disaster'. Guerrilla Funk, says Paris, exists "to provide a voice to the voiceless." He even proffers tips for African-American investors.
Paris continues to rage against the machine that is the current Bush administration. He questions the government's "pseudo patriotic platform" and its 'war on terror'.
What startles the MC is the extent to which hip hop has adopted the government line with muted dissent. In 2003 Paris released his last solo LP, Sonic Jihad, encompassing What Would You Do-, a response to 9/11. The MC picks up on flourishing 'conspiracy theories' about who really masterminded the attacks on the US. Paris holds that the incursion into the Middle East is tantamount to "smash and grab politics" on the Republicans' part. And, increasingly, that view is hardly fringe.
"It's only now that people are starting to realise that everything I said on Sonic Jihad was true and that this is really just a money grab and a power struggle. It has nothing at all to do with trying to find anybody responsible for any kind of terrorist activity. There is, in my opinion, no 'war on terror'. It's simply a way to spend money and to make money and to continue to keep people living in fear with the objective of maintaining power and having extended government control."
Inevitably, Paris has been accused of articulating anti-American sentiments but, he counters, it's the converse. "We care enough to be concerned about everybody. America does not come first and America is not the best and the greatest at all costs. Everybody has to be held accountable."
Many disenchanted Americans are pinning their hopes on Barack Obama's candidacy - and Paris has a unique perspective on the Democrat's ascendance.
"Barack Obama's rise to power is a direct result of the magnitude of fuck-up that George [W] Bush represents - because there's no way in hell that a black man would be poised to be president if everything was going cool," he laughs. "I mean, that is literally how bad the Bush administration has messed up everything. They have allowed somebody who looks like me to rise to power and become a viable alternative."
Paris admits that he's not followed the controversy surrounding Nas' Untitled and the New Yorker's breaking down of the racial epithet 'n****r'. But the veteran believes that an artist must be prepared to defend a contentious stance. To cop such heat - and be under pressure from corporate concerns as well as political agents - can be "a rude awakening," Paris warns. "I'm always of the mindset that I choose my battles wisely. There's certain things that are just unnecessary headaches."
Was Paris surprised, then, at the reaction to Bush Killa all those years ago- "I always wanted to say what I felt needed to be said at the time at all costs and [I] threw caution to the wind throughout the course of my career. I think that I've developed a following that has come to appreciate that in me and that knows that I'm one of the few remaining hip hop artists - and, really, musicians in general - who will remain consistent in that opposition to injustice."
Paris is readying another album, Acid Reflex, for September. "This is an election year, there's a lot to say," he states.
The MC tackles everything from (ongoing) police brutality to US imperialism to Hurricane Katrina's aftermath to the plight of Africa to organised religion. "You can just throw a dart at a dartboard and come up with something - everything is covered on this record."
Paris is far from complacent about his music in 2008. "I treat each [album] now as though it's my last one, so I always go completely out in terms of production and doing the absolute best that I can to bring different resources into play to ensure that it's a solid project - because I never know if this is gonna be my last one or not."
Artistically, too, Paris has greater confidence in his instincts. "I suppose the main thing that I've learnt is just to be completely honest to myself, to not chase trends, and to continue to hone my craft so that I'm as proficient at delivering the kind of message and sound that I want to as I can."
Paris is seeking more bold challenges. He's expanding into film, recognising the potential of documentaries, post-Michael Moore. And he's anticipating his inaugural Australian tour, promising a "full sonic assault". Paris is one US hip hopper who revels in travelling to distant places. From equities trader to MC to filmmaker, Paris embraces new experiences. "The journey of life is constantly being exposed to something new," he philosophises.
"I never wanna fall into a rut where I experience sameness and I can't grow and evolve."
WHAT: Plays the Gaelic
WHEN: Friday 15 August
MORE: myspace.com/bass4yatrunk / guerrillafunk.com