By Rob Harvilla
I definitely think my phone is probably tapped at this point," notes Dave Paul, underground hip-hop impresario and amateur conspiracy theorist. "Who knows how long that will last?"
Uncle Freakin' Sam, that's who. So watch what you say around Dave -- he's certainly watching what he says around you. "Well, it's hard not to use my company name," he admits with a disturbingly maniacal laugh. "But I definitely try not to use the president's name, or anything to that effect."
The company name? Bomb Hip-Hop. Dave can still laugh about it, thankfully. The Secret Service, however, wasn't nearly as amused.
When Dave first conjured up the Bay Area hip-hop zine Bomb in '91, terrorism was the furthest thing from his mind. "What I meant was just dropping the bomb, dropping the truth, and giving people, like, the real deal," he explains. "It had nothing to do with, like, explosives or anything like that."
Bomb ground to a halt in '96 so Dave could devote more time to his new love: Bomb, the record label. Nearly a decade later he's a minor indie hip-hop star best known for masterminding Bomb's Return of the DJ comp series, waving the torch for turntablist geeks everywhere. Dave is enjoying himself. He's putting out the zine again. Return of the DJ -- Volume V is in stores, and it even inspired a small club tour that hit SF, Lafayette, New Orleans, Houston, Dallas, and Oklahoma City.
Dave booked the tickets for that last gig at CheapTickets.com. This decision ultimately proved most unwise.
"They had sent me an e-mail with my confirmation for the tix, and it didn't have the total price on it," he recalls. "So I called up to find out what the total price was, talked to a travel agent. He was lookin' it up, he had me on hold, he looked up the four flight tickets, added it up, told me the total, asked me my e-mail address to where he could send confirmation or whatever. I believe he asked me my company name. And that was it. That was the end of the phone call."
Not quite. The Cheap Tickets guy, perhaps unnerved that some rap dude had just said the word "Bomb" to him over the phone, called the feds.
Five days later, the Secret Service showed up at Dave's door. As the quasi-perp himself wasn't home, they busied themselves freaking out the quasi-perp's mom. "She was actually quite upset about it when they first came by," he recalls, "because I wasn't here, and they were tellin' her that I said something on the phone that I had to answer to."
Namely, Cheap Tickets apparently suggested that Dave had made some sort of threat against big George W. The exact nature of this threat remains uncertain, as Dave denies having made it, and neither Cheap Tickets Inc. nor the Secret Service will tell Dave exactly what it is he claims he didn't say, Dave says. (Cheap Tickets didn't return several calls seeking comment before press time.)
All the same, the men in black eventually hooked up with Dave and interviewed him about it. He describes them as "polite," politely rolling up in their black SUV and politely refusing Dave's invite to the Return of the DJ show at Milk in SF that evening. ("They didn't seem too interested," he says.)
Then they politely asked to check out his bedroom.
One of the agents, according to Dave, said the following: "'Can we take a look at your room, to see if there are any photos of George W. Bush on your wall, with targets drawn on?'"
This is homeland security? Holy shit, we're all gonna die.
"That's the thing that actually really pisses me off," Dave says. "I couldn't believe it when the guy said it. I actually hesitated and was gonna say no, then I figured, 'You know what, I don't need them comin' back with a warrant or breaking down the door when I'm out on tour or whatever. All they saw on my walls were records and graffiti photos. And Bomb posters."
He catches himself.
"As in artist posters."
Recounting the incident on BombHipHop.com, Dave hints at James Bond-style subterfuge: "One agent had a big USA pin on his tie ... I bet it was a camera taking photos of my room."
Good luck verifying the tie thing. "Yes, agents from our office did speak to him, yes," says Secret Service supervisor Richard Stribling. "And that's all I can really say about it. Cases that involve threats against our protectees we take very seriously, and we're obligated to follow up on allegations that are made. We don't really comment on them, though, either."
No, Dave isn't a paranoid dude -- nor is Bomb, he insists, a politically charged label. But while Dave is jovial about all this, he's clearly a little spooked as well. He sent a complaint e-mail to Cheap Tickets (and will most likely use Expedia in the future), as well as formal letters to the Secret Service and Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein. "I just really asked for them to look into this," he says. "Because obviously somebody's lying -- either CheapTickets or the Secret Service -- and I really don't want to be on the so-called list as someone who's made a threat against the president ... once you're on the list you're on the list for life."
Given the absurdity of the situation, you'd forgive the guy for feelin' like a bit of a badass. "Nah," Dave says. "I think if I was a badass, I would've told them, 'No, you can't come in.' I mean, it makes for a great story. I definitely have gotten more responses on this than for any release I've put out, which is kind of a shame. But you know, take it where you can get it."
Yes, Dave may regret not acting a little tougher, or at the very least a little weirder. "We should've taken a picture of George Bush and drawn hearts on it and put kissy lips on it and stuck it up on my wall. That would've been really funny."
No, Dave, that would've landed your name on a completely different list.
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