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Abe Beame can’t choose between Bootsy and Boots.
I’ve made a lot of artist featured mixtapes over the years and a good one requires effort. You comb through P2P sites and YouTube and old articles to cull rare features, radio freestyles, unreleased mixtape shit, and dope remixes. Boots Riley and his collective known as The Coup present a unique challenge because there’s very little of any of that to be found. Their work is hermetically sealed and self contained, impervious to time or taste.
Boots never showed up on an old Ras Kass record, there were no bars for Funk Flex or DJ Clue, he and Pam never made an appearance in The Basement. They released six albums over the course of nineteen years, all very similar in approach and scope, and aside from a side project with Tom Morello, the music is flawless. It’s a sleek and complete catalogue, difficult to etch a way in for a new comer without simply presenting the work as is. But here’s my best shot.
Boots came out in ’93 fully formed with Kill My Landlord. Over the years his voice deepened and he naturally matured from a storyteller to more of a songwriter, but the precocious youth of Kill My Landlord is pretty stunningly similar to the saddened and wizened host of Sorry to Bother You. From the beginning, Boots was a satirist with a cinematographer’s eye for detail and a novelistic approach to his fantastic stories.
He’s unquestionably from Oakland but very much apart from the NorCal brethren that put their stamp on the Bay sound. With his taste for simple funk licks, staccato delivery, and densely populated, social message heavy narratives, his influences are more East Coast: Brand Nubian, De La Soul, the Jungle Brothers, and of course, Public Enemy.
The Coup approach a social message heavily influenced by The Black Panthers, specifically their focus on Marxism and inequality. You can feel the anger of Bobby Seale and Huey Newton, Stokely Carmichael’s nuanced economic dismay, the urgent hope of James Forman. But Boots’ socio-economic message was delivered with perspective: from the early ’90s on the other side of Reagan.
He knew the SNCC merger failed, Huey had been murdered outside a crackhouse, Bobby Seale was hawking cookbooks, and Stokely exiled himself to Africa. In other words, the revolution was lost, and much of The Coup’s body of work is delivered with the weight of this cynical knowledge. Like Nas reporting from a project window in Queensbridge, Boots is giving us on the ground reporting from a late capitalist nightmare where poor people of color are fuel for a great, terrible, churning engine. A central theme in Boots’ narratives are pimps and hoes, a time honored natural metaphor for our tiered capitalist system. The Coup made music for the aftermath.
With his new film, Sorry to Bother You, Boots has potentially launched himself from an obscure political underground rapper to one of the most important voices to emerge from the Golden Age of Hip Hop and you’d be hard pressed to find another rapper from the era more humble, brilliant, or worthy of this sudden elevation. The film is a searing critique that also serves as a thesis, the visual accompaniment to a career dedicated to a single vision.
Like in his music, it’s Boots’ sadness and sense of humor that save him from the unbearable on the nose didactic message rap’s most political MCs spit. His remove, his ability to craft a complex message and allow his audience to come to it with repeated listens is what probably kept him from mainstream success and yet makes him a truly great artist. The same sensibility for pop, the marshmallow that he stuffs his cyanide in, is what makes his film as funny and accessible as a movie about the breakdown of capitalism and modern slavery could possibly be. The Coup’s body of work is sad, fucked up, funky and unquestionably American. Sorry to bother you, but you need to hear this.
Sorry Not Sorry: The Best of the Coup (Left-Click to download)
- Pam’s Song (Kill My Landlord, 1993)
- Not Yet Free (Kill My Landlord, 1993)
- Fat Cats, Bigga Fish (Genocide & Juice, 1994)
- 5 Million Ways to Kill a CEO (Party Music, 2001)
- Shoyoass (Pick a Bigger Weapon, 2006)
- Repo Man (Genocide & Juice, 1994)
- Takin These (Genocide & Juice, 1994)
- Jane and the Funkstress (The Jane of All Trades, 2011)
- Ghetto Manifesto (Paris Remix) (Party Music, 2001)
- Liberation of Lonzo Williams (Kill My Landlord, 1993)
- Mindfuck (A New Equation) (Pick a Bigger Weapon, 2006)
- The Coup (Kill My Landlord, 1993)
- This One’s a Girl (Genocide & Juice, 1994)
- Me and Jesus the Pimp in a ‘79 Grenada Last Night (Steal this Album, 1998)
- We’ve Got a lot to Teach you, Cassius Green (Sorry to Bother You, 2012)
- Outro (Genocide & Juice, 1994)