Sunday, August 25, 2019

Paris's Black Power Mixtape: The Devil Made Me Do It

Another blast from the past from the The Stranger's music blog Line Out...

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 19, 2011

Paris's Black Power Mixtape

posted by  on MON, SEP 19, 2011 at 7:48 AM

  • SCARFACE/TOMMY BOY
      "Paris is my name, I don't sleep. I drop science, and keep the beat."

In light of the documentary Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, which opens at the Varsity Theatre on 10/14, I've been thinking about Paris's 1989 album, The Devil Made Me Do It.* With lyrics about civil rights, dirty cops, and the beauty of blackness, what is it if not a "Black Power mixtape"? Other hip-hop records have referenced the Black Panthers, but I submit that Devil is definitive.

Around the same time he released his debut, I read Eldridge Cleaver's Soul on Iceand Bobby Seale's Seize the Time: the Story of the Black Panther Party (I also read The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Amiri Baraka's Blues People). Paris's opening salvo served as the perfect soundtrack to their words, and that's to take nothing from Public Enemy, with whom he would go on to collaborate.
*PBS has acquired the film for future broadcast (disclosure: I work at KCTS 9).


In his Nation review of Black Power MixtapeStuart Klawans mentions a particular Panther chant, which sent me scrambling for the Paris disc, because I recall that he samples the tune (it appears on "Panther Power"). But there's a difference between hearing the rhyme and, as Klawans writes, watching the Panthers teach "little kids to shout slogans in exchange for a pancake breakfast, and to sing a suicidal little ditty I had all but forgotten, 'Pick Up the Gun'."

It's the world from which P-Dog (born Oscar Jackson, Jr. in 1967) sprang. Like Tupac, son of party member Afeni Shakur, he grew up in the Bay Area in the long shadow of the Panthers (as with Pac, he also had a connection to Oaktown’s Digital Underground, but more as an associate than a collaborator).



If Paris would filter his feelings about the Bush-era though more militant means, he shared Pac's anger, and his debut deserves to stand alongside PE's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back and NWA's Straight Outta Compton.
As DJ Davey D told SF Weekly, "Public Enemy was Afrocentric, but Paris was the first hip-hopper on the West Coast to do it in an uncompromising way."
But anger isn't enough in and of itself. If it marred his controversial 1992 follow-up, Sleeping with the Enemy (with hard-headed harangues like "Bush Killa" and "Coffee, Donuts & Death"), he gets the balance right on his first record, where his sinuous flow and sinister grooves make the econ major's knowledge hit all the harder (Paris graduated from UC Davis). The tone is nervy and noirish: a letter from the underground written in generations of spilled blood, but it's also, as he declares (in "Break the Grip of Shame"), "A call and a plea for unity."

The former Nation of Islam member still writes, raps, and produces, and worked for a time as a stockbroker to fund his projects and to provide for his family. As he reflected to SF Weekly about his years working for The Man, "I saw what was going on with favoritism in the mutual funds. That's real gangsta shit."

Endnote: Images from Discogs.

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