It's not hard to be the angriest man in rap when you're Paris. Or is it? Back when Oscar Jackson Jr. was at the peak of his righteous rage, he had just been kicked off Tommy Boy Records for his song "Bush Killa." It was during this era that Time/Warner had done virtually the same thing to Ice-T after receiving too much flack for his Bodycount group's song "Cop Killer," first forcing him to replace the song and later dropping him from their subsidiary label Sire altogether. Who wouldn't be bitter at such censorship? Paris was already well known for his strident pro-black message on his debut album "The Devil Made Me Do It," so he was an easy target for a recording industry quick to look politically correct and not enrage a vocal opposition who claimed their boycotts could lower stock prices and force companies to reconsider freedom of speech based on financial impact. Sadly they were right. Stock prices won, freedom of speech lost. Paris eventually released "Sleeping With the Enemy," including the controversial "Bush Killa" song on his own label Scarface Records, but the damage had been done. The album was a potent, powerful and provocative message about racism, government corruption and social injustice that few people ever got to hear because of poor distribution and the lack of commercial exposure.
This is the point at which things really get interesting. Paris continued to record until 1998, releasing both "Guerilla Funk" and "Unleashed" to equally lackluster sales and response. By at least one account, Paris then retired from the music industry altogether and used the economics degree he received from the University of Cal-Davis to become a successful stockbrocker. Really? No shit. As an ardent fan of what I felt was Paris' undeniably justified anger at America's betrayal of it's own creeds "all men are created equal" and "life liberty and the pursuit of happiness," this news was something of a shock to me. Instead of fighting the system, Mr. Jackson became as much a part of it as any one man could be. He apparently traded in his righteous indignation for a suit and tie, and the comforts of buying low and selling high. And let me just say I'm not gonna be the one to hate on him for that. The music industry gave Paris about as raw of a raw deal as an intelligent, articulate, passionate rap artist can possibly get. Who wouldn't say "fuck it" and trade up? Afrocentrism wasn't paying the bills or putting food on his table, but Dow Jones would. So go on witcha bad self Paris, sell those shares of Nike, even as they exploit cheap labor in third world countries to keep their massive profits so high. After all, what can you do about it anyway? Nobody wants to hear it anyway, so you'd only continue preaching to a brick wall. Might as well play that game of capitalism KRS-One so well described as "pimps and hoes," and play it well enough so that you're the pimp, not the hoe.
And yet here we are in the 21st century, and Paris is back on the map of the music scene with "Sonic Jihad." Perhaps the dot com crash wiped out his portfolio. Perhaps Mr. Jackson felt too much like a corporate hoe pushing stocks for billion dollar companies who treat their employees like modern day slaves. Either way, Paris is pissed off again. You have to be pissed off to call an album "Sonic Jihad," after all. The title essentially implies you're going to wage holy war on the listening audience verbally and musically. When I picked up this album an an independent retailer (it's not surprising Paris still has trouble getting his albums into mainstream stores), I had high hopes. I was looking forward to the Paris of old. The pissed off, mad as fuck, I can't stand this shit and I ain't gonna take it no more Paris. After all the fact there's a George Bush in the White House today proves that over a decade after he was censored, the more that things change the more they stay the same.
Paris certainly seems to be starting out like the rapper of old with his "Ave Bushani" intro, where he compares the Jr. to the Sr. and is none too subtle in claiming that they carry the mark of the beast. This is followed up by the "Field Nigga Boogie," and it's good to hear his voice and flow haven't faded over time - nor has his ire at a world he views as hostile to black men and rappers, with policemen enforcing the system of injustice:
"I bust a shot and these pigs all dash like rent-a-cops
These punk-ass devils'll never stop
Fuck 'em all, I draw they fall
Bitch I was robbed while I'm makin the days of yes y'all
Gotta make a fuss, nigga bust and ride
See it in my eyes, speak truth or die
America's a motherfuckin beast and I'm
still the same nigga snatchin sheets for mine
Back on the map and we fade to black
Fuck rap, see us pickin off pigs with straps
And bust on they compound, take control
of the precinct, leave 'em all stankin cold
There's no justice, no motherfuckin peace, say it
NO JUSTICE, NO MOTHERFUCKIN PEACE, believe
Long as niggaz gettin beat by these pigs we shootin
out of Coupes, FUCK peace and the boys in blue
We do the raw shit"
Fiery rhetoric only goes so far without beats, but fortunately Paris has become an expert at self-production over the years and creates a raw pulsating beat that matches his venom. The sonic layering Paris employs is in fact pleasantly reminiscent of old Bomb Squad days, and his use of movie clips, news excerpts and vocal samples on instrumentals like the first 108 seconds of "Sheep to the Slaughter" send as potent a message as his own raps do. The most important thing about this whole presentation is the fact Paris does not sound the least bit hypocritical. If the Wall Street story that's been attributed to him is true, one gets the feeling from songs like "Spilt Milk" with Capleton and "Ain't No Love" featuring Kam that Paris traded his tie and suit back in for a Black Panther suit, and got re-energized to fight by the shocking turn of events since September 11th, 2001 (which he also writes about at length in the liner notes). And if you think he's not joking around, just listen to what his guest Kam has to say:
"Y'all niggaz really wanna see us dead huh? We too militant
Always on that pro black, cracker-jack killin shit
I picked up a few, cuts scrapes and raw abrasions
collectin my cheese and checkin these caucausians
Cause when you killin niggaz on a record then you goin places
But talk about killin these crackers, you racist
That's why - crackers and flies, I do despise
The mo' I see these crackers, the mo' I like flies
Look into my eyes before I pull this trigger, I don't know what's worse
a black cracker or a white nigga, who should I do first?"
Now if you were on the fence before listening to this song, you'd certainly be pushed to one side or the other after. Either you'd be mad as fuck at Paris and his cohorts for their perceived hate, or you'd be saying "right on" and feeling like the days when Paris wrote "The Devil Made Me Do It" had come back in full force. While I wouldn't condone acts of violence any more than I would the behavior of Ron Artest on a basketball court, there's certainly plenty of things wrong in the world to be mad about and nothing wrong with expressing those sentiments on a rap album. In rap's first golden era materialism was balanced by afrocentrism, and gangster rap was not just glorified violence but a portrait of a world where the worth of a young man's life had been devalued by disenfranchisement. As rap has grown steadily more commercial and profitable the balance has gone askew, as mainstream artists on big labels espouse a "bling bling" lifestyle but often fail to address the consequences of materialism and drug abuse in destroying individuals neighborhoods and communities. While artists like Paris and Immortal Technique are too few and far between these days and are mostly relegated to small independent labels, their voice is much needed in hip-hop to help restore the balance. Paris is unapologetic about the violence of songs like "You Know My Name" and "Evil," because to quote another well known KRS-One phrase "if negativity comes with a twenty-two, positivity comes with a forty-five." And if you thought Paris was just declaring war for his own selfish reasons, "AWOL" is a first person account of how a young man can be deceived into joining the military, only to find out it's a hellish nightmare:
"I remember how it started, remember the time
I was watchin Rap City bout a quarter to nine
Commercial said the military givin money for school
Caught the bus up to my campus, they were signin recruits
And met this dude named Diablo, was some kind of vet
He explained the situation told me what to expect, he said
'Now we'll help you pay for college and train you for work'
Said I could take computer classes and could quit if I want
But best of all was the fact I'd, have my own shit
I'd have my own space and have my own place to keep it
On top of that I'd travel, and visit the world
Hell Diablo said the women overseas was the pearl
Didn't even call my girl, let's get it on fo' sho'
Signed my name, took some tests, and I was outta the do'
A true soldier for America, ready to go
On the road a vacation'll be good for the soul
I showed up at basic training, but what a mistake
Cause this motherfucker yellin at me all in my face
In this dirty-ass latrine, 50 men in a room
Runnin laps up in the mud at 4 o'clock in the mornin
I'm scrubbin toilets doin laundry, and feelin the pain
If I didn't know no better, I'd think 'boy' was my name
Same bullshit line so many bit 'fore me
Got a nigga twisted up in this illusion of freedom
Fuck this shit, I'm out tomorrow, made up my mind
Everything Diablo said I'm findin out was a lie
That's when my unit got the call, the Commander in Chief
wanna ground troop assignments keepin peace in the East
What a relief, I'm thinkin finally somethin new
Shipped us off and 20 hours later we was en route
Touched down around 11, the desert was brutal
Then the ground split and caught us by surprise from the shootin"
While much of the message on his album can be construed as pro-black, songs like these can also be viewed as a wake-up call to ALL people regardless of their age or color. Nor if you're still wondering if Paris is for real this time, after "retiring" and going Wall Street, the fact both Public Enemy and Dead Prez decided to make guest appearances on "Sonic Jihad" is pretty convincing in it's own right. Let me make it more personal though - I'm just as much a part of the corporate game as Paris was as a stock broker. Without large corporations buying advertisements on my websites, I wouldn't have the money to cover my operating expenses and bring you these reviews from myself and other writers. In music things can sometimes be brought into the sharp focus of black and white, but in real life the colors get muddled. What's clear about Paris from "Sonic Jihad" is one thing though - he believes that we are in as much or more crisis at this time in history than we as Americans were over 12 years ago when the last "Bush Killa" was in office. He may in fact be right, but that's a judgement for you the listener to make. Regardless to ignore what Paris has to say is a fatal mistake, and not just because he's saying things that may make moderates and conservatives uncomfortable, but because he is musically and lyrically on point and making damn good hip-hop. It's edgy, it's bitter, and it's powerful. "Sonic Jihad" declares holy war on injustice and on bland hip-hop music at the same time.
Music Vibes: 8.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 9.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 9 of 10
Originally posted: November 23, 2004