By Anna Pulley
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
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By Rachel Swan
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By Erin Sherbert
Paris celebrated his newfound consciousness by recording Nation of Islam- inspired black-power raps with Mad Mike. Looking for tips on how to make a video, he hung around with members of Digital Underground, a popular hip hop group, as they shot a music video in Oakland. A producer for Tommy Boy Music, owned by AOL Time Warner, asked if he rapped.
"I rushed to get my tape out of the trunk of my car," he recalls. "They liked it. They said, 'Let's do a single for $4,500.' I said, 'I got an album here, and I know shit when I smell it.' They said, 'OK, here is $100,000 for the album and two videos.' Two weeks later, I was in New York City tracking The Devil Made Me Do It for Tommy Boy."
On his inaugural record, Paris played off the rage he felt as a black man confronted in daily life by white police. He called for his black brothers to equalize the contest with guns.
And now you know, I'm brutal
Callin' all brothers to order, P-Dog'll slaughter
Stomp rip and choke those who thought a
Young black man wasn't capable of intellect ...
We're headin' for Armageddon, it's like that
The government's policy, see, is tactical genocide.
Paris says his Nation of Islam comrades were more concerned with what was wrong with society than with how to change it. Identifying racist cops as the most visible enemy of black people was not enough. Paris was looking for a more concrete political direction, a vision for change. So he set the '60s-era Black Panther Party's Ten Point Program to a scintillating beat.
"Public Enemy was Afrocentric, but Paris was the first hip-hopper on the West Coast to do it in an uncompromising way," says DJ Davey D, who writes a hip hop column for the San Jose Mercury News. "When I played Paris on KMEL he was a big hit. He had a slamming beat, and he made history relevant. He was fusing Nation of Islam stuff with the Black Panther Party's nonreligious approach."
Paris stood out, says Davey, because he did not glorify selling drugs, killing fellow African-Americans, or raping women, as did so many black rappers of the time such as N.W.A. The motormouthed rapper suggested that his listeners kill "killa" cops instead of each other. He was deeply contemptuous, as he put it in one song, of "weak wack watered-down welfare DJs" who put out "mindless music for the masses" that "makes you think less of the one that hates ya."
The Devil Made Me Do It sold 300,000 copies, according to Paris. Buoyed by that success, the up-and-coming rap star labored to finish and release his second album, Sleeping With the Enemy, in time for the 1992 presidential election, which he hoped to influence with his music.
Listening to these early raps, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the music and the vehemence of the lyrics. A closer look at the words shows, however, that Paris was struggling hard (as he still is) to define an enemy upon whom he could focus an inchoate political anger. Clearly, the category "white supremacy" was too broad and vague to pick as a target for the revolution; cops were obviously servants of the rich, more symptom than cause.
The sons of slaves are insane and we might just
Self-destruct and erupt without a chance to grow ...
Or maybe even more of us will blame the white man
Before we understand now the problem's not him.– "The Days of Old," Sleeping With the Enemy
Iraq never called me "nigger"
So what I wanna go off and fight a war for?
That reflection gives way to homicidal resolve:
Yeah, it's P-Dog the Bush Killa ...
Yeah, so where's he at? I might wait
For his motherfuckin' ass on a rooftop next tour ...
And send his ass home belly up.
The lyrics gave Tommy Boy executives a serious case of cold feet, and they refused to release Sleeping With the Enemy.Using contract settlement money from the label, Paris started his own, Scarface Records, and, he says, sold 480,000 copies of his controversial record. "Bush Killa" generated tons of free publicity, even though Sleeping came out after Bill Clinton defeated the Republican incumbent.
Paris says the Secret Service later showed up at his workplace to question him about the album, but he was out of the office. "They wrote a letter to my record label expressing discontent about 'Bush Killa,'" he says, declining to elaborate on what, exactly, the federal agents wanted from him. Richard Stribling, a Secret Service spokesman in San Francisco, says the presidential protection agency does not comment on investigations past or present. He adds, "It is a violation of federal law to utter words threatening to kill one of the officials we protect, and that includes works of art. We investigate all threats and if we determine that there is any substance to it, we turn the matter over to the United States attorney for prosecution." But attorney Margaret Russell, the American Civil Liberties Union's Northern California chapter chairwoman, says that Paris' violent anti-Bush lyrics "would have been protected speech under the First Amendment, unless the government had reason to believe that the songs were part of a criminal threat to hurt the president or to commit violence."