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Jared Paul on hip-hop, hegemony, and the myth of affluenza



Political poet Jared Paul, who's about to release his first rap album, celebrates peace, love, and the American way.
  • Political poet Jared Paul, who's about to release his first rap album, celebrates peace, love, and the American way.

Ever since he first heard Public Enemy in high school, Jared Paul has identified with a culture that was, as he puts it, "invented, innovated and pioneered by black and brown folks."

"I'm a straight, cisgender, white dude, so I benefit from all the privileges there are," says the stridently political performance poet, who's just now releasing his first rap solo album, Get My Ghost. "I can never be in the lineage of hip-hop. But I have a voice, and can be who I am. And I am part of the culture, in my way."

One privilege that Paul doesn't have is coming from money.

"I grew up very working class, in a depressed mill town, where the mill houses were turned into Section 8 housing," he says of his Rhode Island upbringing. "We were the poor neighborhood in a rich town, the only neighborhood where the cops set up a substation. So it wasn't a stretch for me to see the cops as violent and dangerous, because that's how they treated the people in our neighborhood. And it wasn't a stretch for me to see things as unfair, because I grew up in a neighborhood where there was a lot of hardship."

As such, Paul never ran the risk of succumbing to "affluenza," the currently in-vogue psychological malaise that defense attorneys have begun invoking as a way to explain away the sociopathic tendencies of their wealthy clients. In fact, the longtime activist bristles at the mere mention of the term.

"I want to cry and I want to laugh at the same time when I hear that word," he says. I can't believe that's an argument. It's just stupefying to me. Literally stupefying."

With beats and production by Sacramento "friend and ally" Tommy Fox, Get My Ghost finds the two-time World Poetry Slam finalist veering away from the more Rage Against the Machine-style agit-rock of his ongoing band Prayers for Atheists. But Paul's anti-capitalist sentiments are still just as strong, even on the danceable "$8 Smoothie," which he describes as "a fun song about food classism."

Tracks like "Down with the Bank Kings" and "Movement First," meanwhile, are considerably less whimsical, but no less engaging. And while the songs can currently be heard online, Paul says the album won't see its official release until later this month on Black Box Tapes Trading Company, a Denver-based label started by former Anticon member Sole.


Although he's dabbled in music ranging from folk protest songs to punk-rock anthems, Paul sees rap as the most natural outlet for his poetic inclinations.

"No poetry form is being utilized more than 4/4 time, 16-bar rap verses, which over the past 40 years have been written hundreds of thousands of times by emcees around the world. Hip-hop is poetry set to a beat, and it's used more than fucking sonnets, or ghazals, or sestinas." (Paul suspects that haikus may come in a close second, but that's only because they're short.)

Over the course of the next two weeks, Paul will be giving a Ted Talk in Vail, and then making his way to Denver and Colorado Springs, where he'll headline a hip-hop show at Flux Capacitor, and do a poetry reading at Hear Here — all avenues for getting across anti-imperialist views that would drive Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to distraction.

But that's all part of the job for an activist who's so far managed to get himself arrested at three major party conventions, including one where the band Atmosphere had to help bail him out.

So it's probably no surprise that, in an interview that's as much about history as hip-hop, Paul is quick to condemn Western interventions in the Middle East that date back to the 11th century Crusades.

"Every time they bomb a wedding or a hospital, or drop white phosphorus, or invade Fallujah or some other city, they prop up ISIS and create more hatred for us," he argues. "We have no right to dictate how other people live. Whitey needs to get the fuck out."

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