By Christina Li
By Dave Pehling
By Ian S. Port
By SF Weekly
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
The Coup -- probably the most radical hip hop group that's ever existed -- has dropped three brilliant albums on the world during the last 10 years. Public Enemy, the only other hip hop act that is consistently a thorn in the side of America's corporate, cracker police state, is currently only a shadow of its former self. But even though it's less known than many of its militant peers, the Coup, still hungry and angry as fuck, remains a vital force in the new millennium.
Originating in Oakland in 1990, the Coup (as in coup d'état) was built around the witty, indignant social criticism of the mega-'fro'd Boots Riley (born Raymond Riley) and his pal E-Roc. Its first DJ was quickly replaced by Pam the Funkstress following the release of their now-impossible-to-find self-titled debut EP. It was Pam who upped the rap unit's ante by adding thumping, bass-heavy, '70s funk grooves and scratching to the Coup's Black Panther Party, manifestolike lyrics for its first full-length effort.
Recently rereleased on Wild Pitch Records, Kill My Landlord, the Coup's ferocious debut album, still sounds like a ghetto erupting, but it was especially poignant upon its release, coming as it did on the heels of the Rodney King-inspired L.A. riots in 1992. On a song titled "The Coup," Boots dropped such Panther-like threats as, "'Cause the word is heard across the bay and in L.A./ In New York, N.Y., Chicago, and Atlanta, GA/ We give a fuck if you've got money in the millions/ 'Cause, motherfucker, we've got posse in the billions/ So break yourself, Bush/ It's collection day/ So break yourself, Trump/ It's collection day/ You stole the shit from my granddaddy, anyway."
That's right -- some serious black rage is on display here. Kill My Landlord features militant tunes like "I Know You," which ranks with such classic, controversial, "off the pigs" anthems as N.W.A's "Fuck Tha Police" and Ice T's "Cop Killer," although "I Know You" is perhaps even more harsh and grim. "Funk," meanwhile, is another Coup masterpiece, combining a live bass riff that won't quit with some jazzy piano, a sample from Grandmaster Melle Mel, and some ultra-snazzy rhyming. On "Not Yet Free," the Coup sends shouts (and shots) out to Pete Wilson, Tom Bradley, Bill Clinton, and the Oakland Police Department. Then there's the title song, on which they evict their landlord from this planet -- permanentlike, if you happen to catch their drift.
"I consider myself a communist, you know, a socialist, whatever you want to call it," says Boots, as a means of explanation. "But basically, I'm not afraid of calling myself those things. I know those are just titles. But the basic idea is that the people should control their own resources and should have a say in what's done with the profits they produce. Therefore, with the community itself having more control, it's also more democratic. You can have it one of two ways -- either you have a few people controlling all the resources or you can have everybody sharing them. A lot of times, it's bullshit debating over anarchy, communism, and socialism. I mean, it all comes down to: Do you want a ruling class or not? That's the question. And I would answer, 'Not.'"
1994's Genocide & Juice finally brought the Coup a little prosperity. The song "Fat Cats, Bigga Fish," a hilarious number about small-time hustling, garnered the group a small bit of commercial radio airplay. The song's narrative has Boots hopping on the bus with his stolen bus pass, pickpocketing some unlucky fellow, scamming free food from a gal who works at Burger King, and then sneaking his way into a stuffy dinner party in a borrowed tux, where he tells a partygoer, "Fuck, nah, I ain't got no Grey Poupon." A minor hit, "Fat Cats, Bigga Fish" induced EMI, then the parent company of the Coup's indie Wild Pitch Records, to license Genocide & Juice for $500,000. The label then simply shelved the album the very next day with no explanation. Two weeks later, EMI dumped Wild Pitch Records completely. The record's shelving may or may not have had something to do with the fact that Genocide & Juice sounds unlike any other typical major label product. As with all of the Coup's records, the album's lyrics are meant to stir things up and provoke revolution by any means necessary.
"I need to be heard," says Boots. "I'm not trying to shoot for just the insular crowd of fans that come and support us every time. I mean, we need that, too, but if they are already down with what the Coup is about, then they know we need to get more people -- and the only way we can do that is with good distribution and exposure."
Genocide & Juice also included a would-be hit-that-never-was with "Repo Man," which very likely wasn't inspired by the cult movie of the same name. A funky, infectious, hilarious ghetto tale, "Repo Man" sounds like it's based on real-life experiences. The chorus features a female singing, "Who is that motherfucker rolling through the 'hood?/ Who is that motherfucker who is up to no good?/ Who is that motherfucker taking your bank?/ Who is that motherfucker always on the gank?" Then, over a sweet piano riff, guitar, and drums, Boots raps: "I be scraping, scratching for bones/ I got the cellular phone I just picked up on loans/ Keeping up with those loans put my ass in debt/ Now who's that motherfucker trying to take my shit/ It's the repo man and the interest rates/ He's got 'Break Yourself' on his license plate/ He took my color TV, the dining room set/ The microwave, my daddy's Corvette/ If you're in debt, he's going to get your ass for something/ I heard there's no future in your fronting/ So let it be known/ Black folks don't own/ They just give us this shit on loan."