The Coup's new album, Pick A Bigger Weapon, kicks off with a classic Boots Riley line — "I'm a walking contradiction/Like bullets and love mixin'..."— and then it just gets better. After a 14-year career that has defined the word "uncompromising", the Coup return armed with bigger funk and taller tales.
Backed by a stellar band that includes Audioslave's Tom Morello, Dwayne Wiggins, and veterans of Parliament-Funkadelic, the Gap Band, Toni! Tony! Toné!, Jesse Johnson, and Frankie Beverly and Maze, the sound is a little edgier on this record and the beats a little faster." The Coup'suniquely bent grooves point to "Dirty Mind"-era Prince, late-80s Too Short, and the trunk-rattling hyphy sonics of the New Bay movement.
The song-cycle of Pick A Bigger Weapon highlights Boots' storytelling gifts— the same outrageous humor, underdog love, and righteous rage that produced classics like "Fat Cats/Bigga Fish" ("Genocide & Juice") and "Me & Jesus The Pimp In A '79 Granada Last Night" ("Steal This Album"). The songs capture the collisions between economics and everyday life, the political and the personal.
The album begins with "We Are The Ones", the story of a street player who could be related to Slick Rick or the late Bay Area rap hero, Mac Dre. "Laugh/Love/Fuck" is a breezy manifesto. "My Favorite Mutiny" showcases a lyricist’s dream session with the Roots' Black Thought and Talib Kweli. "Head of State" turns war-weariness into a riotous joke.
Songs like "Mindfuck (A New Equation)", "Captain Sterling's Little Problem", and the true-life tragedy of "Tiffany Hall" are as harrowing as "Two Thumbs Way Down/I Love Boosters" (with a cameo by Jello Biafra) is hilarious. "BabyLet’sHaveABabyBeforeBushDoSomethin’Crazy" (featuring the stunning singer/rapper Silk E) is an apocalyptic love song that recalls X's "The World's A Mess, It's In My Kiss" and Marvin Gaye's "If I Should Die Tonight". "IJusWannaLayAroundAllDayInBedWithYou" finds utopia in the bedroom.
"All we have on earth are our seconds and minutes, and in order to survive, we're forced to sell that time. We sell our lives off to the highest bidder," Boots says. "The question is how would we use those seconds if we had control of that time?"
Born in Chicago and raised in East Oakland's Funktown neighborhood, Boots became a teenage community organizer, but later switched from a clipboard to the microphone, forming the Coup with rapper E-Roc. Pam the Funkstress, the first female DJ star in the famously competitive Bay Area turntablist scene, later signed on.
Their 1991 self-distributed EP landed them a deal with Wild Pitch Records. Two singles, "Dig It" and "Not Yet Free", cracked BET and national black radio. Their debut, 1993's Kill My Landlord, went on to wide acclaim. The next year, Genocide and Juice shot up the charts, but stalled when EMI absorbed Wild Pitch. E-Roc then left the group.
1998's Steal This Album, released by indie label Dogday Records, was received as a masterpiece and sealed the Coup's rep. But the band's next record, Party Music, scheduled for release shortly after 9/11, became a cultural flashpoint amidst Cheney-Ashcroft hysteria. The album’s original cover (completed three months prior to 9/11) depicted the crew setting off an explosion in the World Trade Center using a guitar tuner and drumsticks. The band's label, 75 Ark, pulled the cover immediately after the attacks.
"As far as the record industry was concerned, it was the end of my career," Boots says. Instead, Boots' defiant refusal to "ride the fence" and the album's undeniable funk made it an underdog favorite. The album hit #8 in the 2001 Pazz and Jop Poll, the most important year-end critic's list.
At the same time, Boots visited South Africa's World Conference Against Racism with the Black August hip-hop tour, where he distributed tens of thousands free cassettes of music in the Oakland community, what he calls "newspapers on tape". He also founded Shoyoass Words, Sounds, & Pictures, a record and media company specializing in music and art that he calls "relevant to social change."
In 2003, the Coup joined with Billy Bragg, Steve Earle, Tom Morello, and Janeane Garofalo, on the barnstorming, Bush-slapping "Tell Us the Truth" tour. Working with those artists proved influential on Pick A Bigger Weapon. "This album took a bit longer, because all of these influences were getting a chance to settle," says Boots, also citing the Clash’s “Bankrobber” as another substantial influence.
"I always think my next album is gonna be my last," Boots laughs, "like it may not sell and I’ll have to do something else. So it drives me to make an album that people might remember as the best one I did."
The record achieves a musical and thematic unity. "I like albums like Songs in the Key of Life, Death Certificate, Beatles albums," says Boots. "I like feeling like I'm getting a presentation, rather than a bunch of Polaroids of people in the studio on a certain day." Pick A Bigger Weapon is here. They say it's a democracy. You decide.
Live On Stage:
The Coup may be most famously known for the cover art for their '01 album Party Music that depicted Boots Riley and Pam the Funkstress appearing to detonate the Twin Towers and was set to hit stores in mid-September of that year. It brought a lot of attention to the act, who pushed the release back to November so new art could be created. Sorry for the weighty story, here's The Coup performing at South Paw in Brooklyn from '05....
Just because I like the one of this one, we're going with it. Here's Fat Cats And Bigga Fish...
Few more to check out...
Not Yet Free
For more on The Coup check out their official website.
Saturday, April 12, 2008