The Coup

New Coup Debut

Revolutionary rappers won’t back down

By Jeff Chang

These days, it may be dangerous to be a revolution-minded rap act called the Coup. But in recent months, the members of this brilliant, battle-hardened crew–performing Feb. 23 in Petaluma–have refused to make things any easier for themselves.

On Sept. 11 of last year, with the release of Party Music approaching, the album’s cover–depicting Bay Area rapper Boots Riley and DJ Pam the Funkstress detonating the World Trade Center with a guitar tuner–suddenly took on a new meaning. The record label hastily replaced the image with a flaming cocktail. (The explosion ended up on the inside cover, blocked by the band’s red-star logo.)

Since then, Boots has used his media platform to question U.S. foreign policy, inciting denunciations from both conservatives and liberals.

Hip-hop hasn’t been this controversial since the early ’90s, when acts like Public Enemy and Ice Cube garnered headlines and fans for their contrarian political stances. The Coup’s fourth record comes ready with answers for its critics and proudly proclaims itself anticorporate, and “anti-Republican and -Democrat” (“If they self-destruct, that’s anticlimactic,” says Boots).

At a time when millionaire rappers waste precious CD time airing their personal beefs with each other, the Coup take on big targets–capitalist greed, police brutality, government corruption–while trying to connect with the smaller-than-life.

On “Nowalaters,” Boots reveals a deep sympathy for a single mother, despite the fact that she once lied to him and claimed he was the baby’s father. “I know that you must have been scared,” he says. “Thank you for letting me go.”

These are not stereotypical tales from the ‘hood. On the Coup’s previous offering, Steal this Album, Boots’ epic “Me and Jesus the Pimp in a ’79 Granada Last Night” painted a portrait of an orphaned boy in search of a father figure: A tale so rich that it inspired author Monique Morris’ novel Too Beautiful for Words. Like a rap Randy Newman or a hip-hop Tom Waits, Boots has a gift for sketching lovable losers. They are fully human in their failings, poor people just trying to catch a break.

The rich and powerful, on the other hand, bring nothing but misery with their moral certitude and selfishness, and are therefore ripe for Boots’ lampooning. On “5 Million Ways to Kill a CEO,” Boots cracks, “Tell him that boogers be sellin’ like crack. He gon’ put the little baggies in his nose, and suffocate like that.”

The touching “Wear Clean Draws,” dedicated to Boots’ baby girl, could be the best cut on an outstanding album. The funny, loving paean advises common sense as the best path through a world in which the odds are consistently stacked: “If somebody hits you, hit ’em back. Then negotiate a peace contract.”

These lines are delivered with Boots’ distinctively flat Cali drawl over a rough-edged, turntable-hyped, ’80s-style funk that points back to the P-Funk All Stars and Prince.

In other words, while political music often proves stiff, pompous, and didactic, reduced to mere messages, Party Music truly has everything it takes to move the crowd–in the clubs or in the streets.

The Coup perform Saturday, Feb. 23, at 8pm at the Phoenix Theatre, 201 Washington St., Petaluma. Tickets are $15 (available at the Last Record Store in Santa Rosa, Red Devil Records in Petaluma, and Watts Music in Novato). For details, call 707.762.3565.

From the February 14-20, 2002 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

© Metro Publishing Inc.