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Capital Rap 

From revolutionary rapper to stockbroker to rapper again -- the long, strange trip of Paris, aka Oscar Jackson Jr.

Wednesday, Dec 3 2003
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Paris says he wasn't motivated to write songs about Clinton, even though the Democratic president sent troops to occupy Haiti for a spell, fired cruise missiles into Sudan, and periodically bombed Iraq. Clinton just never pushed the rapper's "devil" button the same way as Bush père and fils.

Plus, he says, he was by then engaged in trying to build his fortune in more traditional ways than making music. "I got involved in real estate, buying fixer-uppers. I'd slap on some paint, put down some Home Depot carpet. I was buying houses in San Francisco before the prices got outrageous."

In 1998, Paris retired from music altogether and Oscar Jackson Jr. re-emerged, in full-blown capitalist mode. He became a licensed stockbroker -- training at the World Trade Center in Manhattan before returning to California to join the Dean Witter Reynolds office in Pleasanton.

He explains his reasons for this amazing career switch: "You have to have more than one iron in the fire, because nothing is promised. It's the guerrilla way: hands-on, adapt, survival tactics."

He seems more than a bit defensive, though, when talking about the apparent contradiction between the fight-the-power theme of his music and the ease with which he joined the ranks of Wall Street financiers. He'd gone to college to learn about money, so, in a way, he says, he was merely returning to his career roots. The dot-com frenzy was just beginning, and he admits he wanted to cash in on it.

He also gets a bit lost in the morality forest when trying to draw a distinction between owning stocks of "bad" companies in the short vs. the long term. Investors shouldn't hold Nike shares for long periods, for instance, because the firm exploits its Third World workers. But it's OK, he says, to trade in and out of Nike stock quickly to make a fast buck.

"A lot of people decry the unfairness of the capitalist system," he says. "But we all participate. You can piss and moan and say you do not want to participate and let someone else steer it for you, or you can take up the tools and bring about change on an individual level."

Casting about for analogies, Jackson says he takes "a Robin Hood type of approach" to buying and selling stocks. But Mr. Hood stole from the rich and gave to the poor, which is not exactly what stockbrokers do.


Jackson got in early on the dot-com action at Dean Witter. "I made some people some substantial dough," he claims. He enjoyed the hustle of trading and fit more or less smoothly into the white-collar culture, although his colleagues had no idea that he was an ex-rapper who'd sung about wanting to blow away a Republican icon.

But, he says, the financial world's endemic sleaziness began to wear on him. "I saw what was going on with favoritism in the mutual funds," he says. "That's real gangsta shit."

After a couple of years, Jackson quit Dean Witter for reasons he declines to elaborate on, except to say that he "started to see a direct correlation between high finance and the hardship of people on a global scale."

He became a day trader for himself, family members, and friends. He snapped up tech stocks like Webvan, the cybergrocer, but "took a series of licks" and switched to safer blue-chip stocks.

Then a truly unthinkable set of events happened: Bush's son became president of the United States, Islamic fundamentalists attacked New York and Washington, D.C., Congress passed the Patriot Act, and a hyperaggressive Bush put America on what now seems like a permanent war footing.

Pissed off, Jackson returned to his Paris persona and hooked up with a group of Berkeley dot-commers who ran an alternative news service, Guerrilla News Network.

In 2002, Paris scored and narrated a GNN video documentary, Aftermath: Unanswered Questions About 9/11, which explores post-Sept. 11 mysteries, such as why U.S. fighter jets were not scrambled to shoot down the jetliners hijacked by al Qaeda. The video has played to packed houses in more than 20 cities in Europe and North America, including San Francisco.

After the dot-commers built a Web site for Paris, he stayed up nights blogging it. Guerrillafunk.com is hundreds of pages deep, filled with the rapper's thoughts on the origins of the Bush family, his advice on personal wealth-building, and links to dozens of articles on a wide range of political topics, including a number of conspiracy theories.

It was time for Paris, still a Muslim, to make jihad – with music.

This time around, though, the rapper understood that Americans were "not ready for a revolution. There is no black army. We might talk about overthrowing the system, but you can't if the mass of people do not want to do it."

But that does not mean they won't actively defend themselves against police repression or vote against the political party in power. "At its best, hip hop is aggressive and counterestablishment," notes Paris. So the erstwhile stockbroker decided to reach out to hip hop fans, especially young black ones, with an anti-corporate, anti-Republican, anti-major-record-label message. "In the black community," he says, "life imitates art, as hip hop carries a lot of weight."

It carries weight in white suburbs, too. The majority of American hip hop fans are, according to many consumer surveys, white people between the age of 14 and 34. The problem with commercial rap, says Paris, is its ludicrous content.

"You can ask elementary school kids to recite a 50 Cent or Eminem song, and they know every obscene lyric, but they do not know math," he laments.

About The Author

Peter Byrne

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