Happy 25th Anniversary to Paris’ third studio album Guerilla Funk, originally released October 4, 1994.
It’s frustrating that in 2019, with America a fractured nation and a political system at its absolute worst, hip-hop, a genre known for its political statements and activism, hasn’t done much in the way of criticizing the idiot currently sitting in the world’s most powerful seat. I fully support artists releasing songs named things like "FDT" ("Fuck Donald Trump"), but YG and Nipsey Hussle’s 2016 hit was mainly taken at face value by a young generation caught up in the headline-grabbing title and chorus. At least YG and the late Neighbourhood Nipsey did something though.
It was a lot different in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s when hip-hop artists were charged up, outspoken, and not afraid of what controversy might do to their careers. Whether it was the teachings of Malcolm X, the Black Panther movement, Rodney King, or just the devastation caused by the Reagan and Bush administrations, the music gave a voice to millions of disenchanted and pissed-off people.
Public Enemy is the obvious benchmark for “political rap” but there were others, including San Francisco-based emcee Oscar Jackson a.k.a. Paris. Like Ice-T, N.W.A and 2 Live Crew before him, Paris caused a media stir with his 1990 debut The Devil Made Me Do It, leading to videos from the album getting banned from TV. His follow-up album Sleeping With The Enemy (1992) upped the ante with tracks about killing George Bush (President at the time) and the brutal slaying of cops. It was shelved by Tommy Boy Records after bowing to pressure from its parent company’s shareholders, so Paris released it independently on his own label.
Two years later, Paris regrouped with Guerrilla Funk. The new album was distributed by Priority, no stranger to exploiting controversy in hip-hop, having already released or distributed albums by N.W.A, Ice Cube, Gangsta NIP and Geto Boys. Yet Guerrilla Funk is toned down a lot from Paris’ first two albums. To be clear, this wasn’t an artist now running scared after being burned by an industry too conservative to put out his message. Paris is still fired up on Guerrilla Funk, but this time he takes aim at less high-profile targets by reporting about the drugs, violence and racist cops infesting the streets.
Paris definitely knows how to put the funk into Guerrilla Funk. As was the trend with a lot of west coast rap at the time, Guerrilla Funk samples heavily from George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog,” almost wholesale on “It’s Real.” As funky as this sounds, Snoop Doggy Dogg’s “Who Am I (What’s My Name),” the most famous “Atomic Dog” sampling track of all, was still in rotation at the time, taking the edge off of Paris’ song. Paris constantly referring to himself as ‘P-dog’ also doesn’t help the comparisons.
The funk-driven tracks are interspersed with harder-edged, rugged production, where Paris gets more serious. Highlights include “One Time Fo’ Ya Mind” and the police-brutality themed “Bring It To Ya.” The latter features the slept-on Conscious Daughters, Oakland-bred protégés of Paris best known for the 1993 song “Somethin' to Ride To (Fonky Expedition).”
There’s another unfortunately timed use of a sample on “Outta My Life.” It lifts The Gap Band’s “Yearning For Your Love,” sampled the same year by a certain young kid making waves at the time over on the east coast. It’s hard now to listen to “Outta My Life” and not be reminded of the brilliance of Nas’ “Life’s A Bitch,” his collaboration with AZ that featured on his landmark 1994 debut Illmatic.
Some of Guerrilla Funk’s best moments come in the second half, like “40 Ounces and a Fool.” Clocking in at less than a minute and a half, the song takes shots at rappers bagging sizable checks to appear in liquor commercials. This was a thing at the time, with Paris’ fellow west coast compatriot Ice Cube among those shamelessly selling booze to the ghetto by appearing in ads for St. Ides malt liquor. Perhaps with some irony, “40 Ounces and a Fool” includes a sample of an Ice Cube verse.
Another late highlight is “Street Soldier,” which appeared as a bonus track on the Deluxe Edition of Guerrilla Funk released in 2003. The song is a nice bit of classic braggadocios rap and provides some respite from the heavier themes.
Paris retreated from the music industry towards the end of the ‘90s before returning in the aughts. His most recent album was named Pistol Politics (2015), the title of which alone lets you know that Paris is still making politically charged music. It’s a shame not many others are.