Boots Riley speaks to power
Boots Riley, the incendiary, politically minded hip-hop poet, didn’t cause anything close to a ruckus Sunday night at ZuZu. He was there for a listening party to promote Pick a Bigger Weapon (Epitaph), the new album by his Oakland-based the Coup. The event was also tied to promoting Music for America’s “Opt Out” campaign, a non-profit aimed at fighting the provision in the “No Child Left Behind Act” that compels high schools to provide names and contact info of students to military recruiters.
Sporting an Afro and a smile, Riley arrived at 10:45, entered the small room, and started pressing the flesh with the 30 or so mostly white folks who’d been chatting and quietly sipping drinks. Pick a Bigger Weapon came on the sound system. “Thanks for coming to our listening party,” he said. “This will be our best-distributed record. If anybody has any questions about it, they can come up to me and ask.”
And there is much to ask. For starters, it’s the first Coup CD on the punk label Epitaph. Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello plays on it, as do some P-Funk vets. The guns Riley conjures in his raps are aimed not at rival MCs but at bigger targets, like our 41st and 43rd presidents. Not that it was all that easy to focus on the lyrics at ZuZu. You could feel the grooves, but most of the message was lost amid the chatter of the event
“That’s the problem at a bar,” he admitted when he got to my table. The music is heard “best at a venue with a live performance situation. . . . I designed it to work at two levels — you can bob your head to it or listen to the lyrics on the headphones.”
He added that Pick a Bigger Weapon is not purely political, as titles like “I Just Wanna Lay Around in Bed with You” and “Laugh/Love/Fuck” attest. He cited Prince’s “Sexuality” as inspiration. And who are the Coup on the new album? Essentially “me and whoever is around at the studio, who I can get on the phone at the time.” Riley, who had celebrated his 35th birthday the day before, also mentioned that with age he’s gotten “more comfortable with relationships” in song. But the reason for keeping the Coup going is much the same as it always was: “You feel your power — you get people to listen to what you say.”
: New England Music News
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