While much of the hip-hop community headed one way in the early ’90s, Paris (Oscar Jackson) picked up the lyrical gun for another purpose. Influenced by both the Black Panther Party and the Nation of Islam (which at one time would have been a difficult contradiction to resolve), the tough-voiced but college-educated California rapper has upheld the political heritage of the Bay Area by devoting himself to militant politics. Over diverse, imaginative and burningly intense self-produced tracks on The Devil Made Me Do It, Paris expounds on revolutionary nationalism (“Brutal,” a non-vinyl bonus track, offers a concise history of the African-American struggle) and Muslim faith with archival sound bites and carefully detailed written descriptions of pivotal historical figures, from Nat Turner to Huey P. Newton.
The peak of Paris’ creative power, Sleeping With the Enemy advances his musical stylings into the ’90s and pumps up the intelligence of his righteous anger. “I’m madder than a motherfucker,” he announces in “Guerrillas in the Mist,” the album’s bustling centerpiece. “I see the community need work/Black power mean more than a T-shirt.” Good ideas and good sense are not the same thing, however. “Bush Killa,” offered in two mixes, falls into the trap of fantasizing about presidential assassination. In tandem with the cop-killing “Coffee, Donuts & Death,” the song led to the album’s rejection by the Time Warner-owned Tommy Boy, leaving Paris to issue it on his own Scarface label. Quoting classic rap joints along with anachronistic slang like “pigs,” Paris fills his songs with informed references to current events, self-criticism and potent motivation that make the record a valuable learning experience. A deft juggler of lyrical drama, history, payback violence, newsreel samples and commentary who never descends to preaching or dry pedantry, Paris stands alone in an important field that could use a few more good men.
Paris raises the didactic level on Guerrilla Funk, using the wordy CD booklet to recommend Afrocentric books, speakers and stores, discuss religion, media and education and photographically urge the shooting of police. (What once seemed like a faint echo of Jello Biafra’s agit-prop culture approach seems to have bloomed.) The tracks, however, don’t pack as much articulate energy as before, employing irony (“40 Ounces and a Fool”) and nostalgia (“Back in the Days”) more than overt calls to rouse the rabble. Taking his cues from the loping, melodic G-funk sound of the Long Beach gangstas, Paris likewise tones down the rhetorical spray in the rhymes, rolling the same ideas with slow, easy aplomb instead of uptight agitation. “Outta My Life,” for instance, does the “Dead Homiez” drill in an intriguing stylistic blend of Ice Cube, 2Pac and Warren G. While stand-in raps by the Conscious Daughters (especially on “Bring It to Ya”) don’t really affect the tone, soulful vocal stylings by Da Old Skool further soften the album’s blunt force, making it an equivocal, unthreatening and overly derivative spaceholder.
Besides releasing it on his label, Paris wrote the diverse music, played it with engineer Eric Valentine and produced the busy-beat debut by the Conscious Daughters, a young Oakland tag team (Carla Green, Karryl Smith) possessing average skills, big attitudes and no pretense of political awareness. Songs include “Wife of a Gangsta,” “Princess of Poetry” and “Crazybitchmadness.”