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During the summer of 2002, Bay Area rapper Paris wrote and recorded a song called "What Would You Do?" and made it available for free downloading. The song accused President George W. Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft of orchestrating the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon to justify a "season of war for profit" in the Middle East.
Now ask yourself who's the one with the most to gain (Bush)
'Fore 9/11 motherfuckas couldn't stand his name (Bush)
Now even niggas wavin' flags like they lost they mind.
Paris says that hundreds of thousands of people snatched up the MP3 file, inspiring him to record an album, Sonic Jihad. He also posted an image of a jetliner careening into the White House on his Web site, and later used the artwork on his CD.
The national media jumped to interview him. MSNBC's Lester Holt told the rapper on national television that "[t]he cover of that CD is clearly designed to push buttons." "Absolutely," replied Paris, who said that the jetliner and his song expressed political thoughts that many Americans had but were afraid to say out loud.
The media's fascination with Paris' publicity stunt was, he chuckles, worth millions of dollars in free advertising. Sonic Jihad, his fifth album in a dozen years, hit record stores in early October. Its lyrics call for people of color to pick up arms and wage guerrilla warfare in the streets of America. Music critics quickly acclaimed it as Paris' best work. The Los Angeles Timescalled it "sinister ... music that moves the mind as well as the body."
"I make inspirational music, the soundtrack of the revolution," Paris said during a series of interviews with SF Weekly. "Revolution for some means shooting up the government, overthrowing the system, burning down Wal-Mart. For others, it means positive change."
These are not the kind of statements that you would expect to hear from a former stockbroker who lives in Danville, an affluent Contra Costa County suburb. But Paris, 35, is not your average stockbroker, nor is he your typical revolutionary. For that matter, he is not your run-of-the-mill rapper.
He burst onto the hip hop scene in 1990 with his Black Panther logo and his revolutionary black nationalist album The Devil Made Me Do It. Two years later, he claims, the Secret Service paid him a visit to inquire about his song "Bush Killa," a fantasy assassination of the father of our sitting president. Despite the rhetorical violence he now directs against George W. Bush in what he calls his "Panther" personality, Paris admits he doesn't plan to do anything more brutal than cast a vote against the incumbent in 2004.
"There is a degree of persona that gets switched on with the Paris records," the rapper says. "It gives me freedom, but it also limits me, because the Panther Paris has to push to the extreme."
What I'm sayin', what if niggas started shootin' 'em back?
Spit caps outta gats till the beast collapse?
With an eye for an eye, ain't time to play
With an eye for an eye – it's the Amerikkkan way. – "Field Nigga Boogie," Sonic Jihad
"Some of my songs are just venting," Paris explains. "Others are trying to reflect what people are saying, trying to inspire them to make social change. I'm a mild-mannered family man, unless I am treated badly."
The family man, by the way, is named Oscar Jackson Jr. Unlike the snarling, shred-'em-with-gats character of Paris, Jackson is an affable small businessman who cherishes his financial and artistic independence, his white liberal associates, and the media buzz that has enabled his label, Guerrilla Funk Records, to sell thousands of Sonic Jihad CDs in chain stores.
Paris is more than Jackson's alter ego; he's a brand.
The son of a medical doctor, Oscar Jackson Jr. grew up in the Haight and Western Addition neighborhoods of San Francisco. He's a big guy, 6 foot 2, with a slightly pudgy frame and a winning smile. He was, he says, an unremarkable student at Lowell High School, preferring to spend his time recording music with his DJ pal, "Mad Mike" Hornsby. In 1990, he graduated from UC Davis with a bachelor's degree in economics.
Joe Lambert, owner of the Creative Music Emporium record store in the Mission District, befriended Jackson when he was a teenager. "He was a bright kid, not your average Joe Blow rapper," says Lambert. "His beats, his sound quality were good, but his lyrical content was way above the norm. And he had a feel for the entrepreneurial part."
One day, Jackson morphed into Paris. "I went to hear Minister [Louis] Farrakhan speak. I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Lots of things I took for granted turned out to be absolute lies, a painful reality that people who are now taking the view of Fox News will eventually experience."
Joining Farrakhan's Nation of Islam, he adopted the name "Paris" for reasons that he's "never been able to explain in a soundbite" but which have something to do with appropriating a symbol of European culture and turning it against itself.