Paradise the Grand Architect was a party promoter and host at the legendary New York City club Latin Quarters 30 years ago, just as it was giving birth to some folk art you might have heard of called hip hop. He later helped form the Blackwatch Movement, the neo-Black Panther, militant, activist wing of hip hop, with his rap group, X Clan, back when black people found it popular to be black. Today, he lives in Wilkinsburg, helping nurture the next progressive hip-hop chapter.
Describe your transition from party promoter to Pan-Afrikan activist.
I was in a gang called Black Spades. Actually, I was too young to be a Black Spade so I was a Baby Spade. Once Afrika Bambaataa turned it into the Universal Zulu Nation, it stopped being about fighting and we started battling through breakdancing and grafitti. We started reading a lot. I read about the Black Panthers and Malcolm X. I met [X Clan member] Professor X [son of activist Sonny Carson]. Professor X came to the club with me once and saw how many young, strong, black people were there. He was like, "Man, if we could transform this energy into the black consciousness movement, that's what we need." He introduced me to Sonny Carson and first thing he did was look me up and down and said, "What kind of name is Paradise?"
How'd you end up in Pittsburgh?
When I split up with X Clan I was kinda angry, upset. I have family up in Monessen. My cousin Dave was like, "Why don't you come to Pittsburgh and set up shop here? Nobody never did nothing here. You'd be a great asset." So I came here and stayed for a few months, then I started carving this stick [in photo]. This healed me. It took me nine months to finish it and I stayed here until I did.
I see you have an extensive kung-fu DVD collection.
Kung fu and hip hop are cousins. When I was growing up in the South Bronx, at the same time we were inventing hip hop there was a movie theater on 42nd Street. We called it "the kung-fu house" but it was called the Cine 42nd Street Theater. You'd get three kung-fu movies, a big thing of popcorn and a large soda for five dollars. During that time everybody was studying martial arts. Breakdancers took a lot of their moves from kung fu and capoeira.
How would you assess rap music today?
I listen to what everyone else does. Nas, dead prez, Common. I love Ludacris. It's funny, people from every other culture can say and do what the hell they want and no one really pays attention to it. You can watch the Terminator with the biggest guns in the world shooting up police stations, killing police and all kinds of shit on regular TV. Why the hell do they blur out guns in rap videos? The sight of a black man with a gun is so fucking scary. But we'll arm hundreds of thousands of black men with M-16s and put them in downtown Baghdad. That ain't freedom. And unless you been shot 20 times or you sold crack for real, you don't get no respect as a rapper? What the fuck does that have to do with anything? De La Soul didn't have to sell their soul to sell soul records.
You went at Tribune-Review columnist Mike Seate kinda hard last year for a column he wrote. Why?
"Don't Go Messin' Downtown"? I'm gonna frame that. I've been doing that since 1984. Any time the mainstream media comes down on our culture, I answer it. My friend Bill Adler was instrumental in that. One time I was complaining about something and he said, "Why don't you write them?" I said, "You know what? I'm gonna do that." Next thing you know, the newspaper -- it was a paper in Brooklyn called Big Red News -- hired me to start writing articles because their writers were older, they were from a different generation and time -- totally removed from the culture. They did not understand what was being said. There's a lot of black writers that have been hired that have Republican attitudes. They don't care about young black people. They're just tools of white supremacy. NBC, CNBC, CBS -- they realize there's a line they can't walk anymore, due to political correctness, so they hire so-called black people to do their job.