by Cecil Beatty-Yasutake

Born Oscar Jackson, Jr., in Illinois on October 29, 1967, Paris (aka "P-dog") got his militant start in rap as a student at University of California, Davis. Creating Scarface Records as an outlet for his creative energy, he would eventually earn a degree in Economics. On his own Paris lacked funding to properly push and promote his product to the masses; after releasing a single and reaping little reward or attention, he signed a deal with then-fledgling Tommy Boy Records. His first release, The Devil Made Me Do It, spawned two top ten hits: "The Hate that Hate Made" and "The Devil Made Me Do It."

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Paris' debut album is the image of a match being struck and a fuse being lit. Trust me, if the revolution has a musical score, P-dog will be a contributor. Like entering a dark room and bumping into something before your eyes have a chance to adjust, the intro track sneaks up on you and jolts you into another reality. Ominous synthesized foghorn sounds signal something dangerous heading the listener's way. In the forefront, a television reporter tells of the death of a black teenager: Usef Hawkins, a victim of a racially motivated hate crime some years ago. Sirens blare--suddenly you're in the field with another reporter who's interviewing a member of the Black Panther Party. He's calling for a call to arms of the black populace, like Malcolm X before him. He asks for maximum retaliation against those who would use violence against us. The reporter asks, "What changes in the Black Panther party since..." The voice trails off, the response, though, is clear enough: The Panther Party member replies "Whatcha mean 'what changes,' we have a black man that's dead, murdered; that's a change." Instantly a growling drum rhythm kicks in, backed by a bass line so ominous the hair on the back of your neck stands up. Welcome to "Scarface Groove." That fuse you imagined being lit only moments earlier has disappeared, and suddenly you're more nervous than an African-American reaching for his wallet in the darkness of a New York evening.

[ paris ]

Malcolm X commented on violence, "I don't even call it violence when it's self-defense, I call it intelligence." Consider Paris as smart as they come, militant but not violent for violence's sake, he preaches using whatever means necessary to cast off the yoke of racist oppression, segregation and violence. Appropriately enough, "Panther Prowl" is that call to arms. Hyper drum kicks and dizzying turntable wizardry back Paris' aggressive vocal energy. You want controversy, how about this little gem: "News going out to a racist cop, first mother*&%$@# steps up gets shot." For the next four minutes and change, more militant pro-black rhetoric ensues. As the track winds down, a female chorus can be heard chanting, "Revolution has come, time to pick up the gun"--this while a panther growls in the background.

Still reeling from what you just heard, P-dog jumps right back on you like a panther on a fresh kill. "Break the Grip of Shame" is a glimpse into the future of P-dog's evolution as an artist, and his most commercial/club-oriented track on the album. Apparently revolutionaries can move the crowd too; they merely put more food for the brain in their lyrics. Blazin' guitar riffs, deep-throated bass licks and hyped drum work are brought together with perfection by DJ Mad Mike's no-holds-barred scratch work on the break.

Did I mention this entire album--whose liner notes are filled with brief synopses of past militant figures and organizations that no doubt served as inspiration for its content--is written, produced, arranged and performed by P-dog, with scratches by Mad Mike and guitar by Kenny M? The only exception is the title track, "The Devil Made Me Do It," which was co-produced by D.R. and banned from MTV in its original form due to unacceptably graphic imagery. Apparently the video's images of Uncle Sam transforming into the devil was considered too graphic for potential young viewers. Regardless, the track is hotter than a DMX bootleg--take it from me, this one will stay with you longer than a bloody rare prime rib dinner in your colon. From the moment you hear the self-titled track, your adrenaline redlines, your body language takes on that of a big jungle cat on the prowl. It occurs to you that people are giving you a wider birth than normal as you approach.

[ the devil made me do it ]

"Scarface Groove" MP3

Sleeping with the Enemy, Paris' 1992 sophomore album, almost didn't happen. In the wake of nationwide controversy over Ice-T's "Cop Killer" single, Tommy Boy decided "Bush Killa" was too hot to handle. They would eventually decide the whole album was too controversial for release, and this would turn out to be a blessing in disguise: Tommy Boy Record's distributor and parent company Warner Brothers gave Paris a six-figure settlement to withhold the project and go away. Which he did, straight back to his own Scarface Records label; this time around, though, he'd have the money to release and promote his product properly.

The First Amendment got the workout of its life on this rap album, as Paris opened things up with a track called "The Enema (Live at the White House)." Remember that lit fuse you lost sight of earlier? Well you found it again and it's headed towards a nitroglycerin storage facility called Sleeping with the Enemy.

The CD opens with a skit about Paris-led militants storming the White House and shooting the President. If you think of this track as the explosion, then consider "Make Way for the Panther" the massive concussion let off in its wake. Panic-sounding sirens, chaotic scratching, biting samples, and driving bass thumps flood your dome. Vocally, P-dog sticks and moves like a young Mohammad Ali, with the ferocity of an early Mike Tyson. You attempt to rise to your feet and dust yourself off but the P's relentless--he hits you with a shot to the midsection that feels more like a mule kick. The result is a knockout in the self-titled track "Sleeping with the Enemy." Double-time cowbells, furious scratch work, and bubbling yet driving bass licks make this track a surefire anti-establishment dance hit if there is such a thing. And just when you thought you'd heard his best shot he hits you with "Coffee, Donuts & Death," a story about an Oakland police officer, last name Rawley, and his raping of a young (I presume) African-American female.

I heard somewhere that Martin Luther King, Jr. was once quoted as saying, "Sometimes when Malcolm X speaks, even I find myself getting fired up." The same can be said for me after I've listened to P-dog. It's worth noting that for whatever reason the scratch work on Sleeping with the Enemy wasn't done by Mad Mike. DJ Yon fills in admirably, but it's not the same. Musically overall, though, P-dog's production is better than ever; his use of '70s funk samples is innovative and mesmerizing.

[ unleashed ]

Back in the day, it was a rare occurrence to have an artist's sophomore project eclipse the success of their debut, but such is the case with Sleeping with the Enemy. As far as the genre of militant rap goes, I consider this a classic among the likes of It takes Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back by Public Enemy and Straight Outta Compton by NWA.

The dreaded sophomore jinx finally caught up with Paris In 1994--his third release, Guerrilla Funk, drew little attention from fans and critics alike. A look into the landscape that was political rap may lend some insight as to why: Public Enemy's production team The Bomb Squad had by this time undergone dramatic changes in their lineup, altering the band's distinctive sound forever and not for the better. Ice Cube--the man largely responsible for the majority of lyrics for NWA and Eazy-E's albums--had long since split from the group, making a name for himself as a solo artist. Dr. Dre, too, by this time had chosen to leave NWA and go solo. With Suge Knight, he would form a new label, Death Row Records, which would quickly become the modern day equivalent of Motown for the rap music industry.

G-Funk had replaced political rap as the popular genre for fans and media alike. The chart shattering success of Dre's 1992 debut release The Chronic and labelmate and newcomer Snoop Doggy Dogg's 1993 debut release Doggystyle shifted rap's focus to a less political-minded picture of life in the inner city. Songs like "Gin & Juice," "Doggy Dogg World" and "Nuthin' But a 'G' Thang" raced up the charts with their hedonistic themes; gone overnight was the pro-black, anti-establishment rap movement of which P-dog was an elemental part.

Guerrilla Funk would be the last politically-oriented album from Paris. The only single from the album that made any noise on the streets or elsewhere was the self-titled track. It would be four years before the rap world would hear from Paris again--in 1998 he released his latest album Unleashed, which is also the name of his new self-helmed label. When asked to describe the sound of this new album, Paris called it "post-G-Funk." Which means no more heavy use of '70s samples, and no more politically charged rants of rage against the establishment and those who would still see people of color oppressed. With the exception of "Record Label Murder"--a huge middle finger to the face of the music industry--the rest of the CD is pretty bland. Which is a shame because lately whenever I pick up the paper or read a magazine I'm reminded of why I miss his music and message of old so much.

[ sleeping with the enemy ]

"Bush Killa" MP3

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