Weapons of Mass Construction

The Coup takes political rap to the next level

The Coup soldiered on, visiting South Africa's World Conference Against Racism with Dead Prez, Talib Kweli, Jeru the Damaja and Black Thought of the Roots (all of whom would sing on Bigger Weapon's "My Favorite Mutiny"). Then, in 2003, Riley joined Billy Bragg, Steve Earle and Tom Morello on the anti-Bush "Tell Us the Truth" tour.

"Billy Bragg's music, which I'd just gotten into the year before, that really influenced me," Riley says. "Steve Earle has some beautiful songs. When I heard 'What's a Simple Man to Do?' I thought it sounds like a song I would write...Anytime you can be around songwriters -- no matter what the genre -- who can put forth simple ideas in a succinct way, I really respect that. It reinforced the idea of what I was doing."

On Pick a Bigger Weapon, Riley decided to be even more personal than usual. With "BabyLet'sHaveABabyBeforeBushDoSomethin'Crazy" he takes a quote from his girlfriend to heart, offering the kind of ominously sexy track that Marvin Gaye would've come up with if he'd lived under the current regime. "Tiffany Hall" tells the sorrowful tale of a girl Riley knew from San Francisco State who died from liposuction surgery, while "I Love Boosters" details the practice of buying high-end clothing from regular shoplifters.

Boots Riley: Lefty hip-hop avatar.
Boots Riley: Lefty hip-hop avatar.

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Even on the most personal of tracks -- like the slow, funky "I Just Wanna Lay Around All Day in Bed with You" -- Riley injects his trademark socialist viewpoint, pointing out, "Them rich folks gots ta knows / It's bout controllin' these minutes / They can party cuz we work 'till our lower back goes." On "Captain Sterling's Little Problem" he undertakes the army grunt's viewpoint: "Now I'm in apparel colored shit and guacamole / In another country brought to you by Coca-Coley / Ordered from the top to shoot everything holey / Shit, I'm 19 and I'm missin' all my homies." On "We Are the Ones," he succinctly maps out the dilemmas facing the boyz n the hood of today, offering, "Our pay is unstable and under the table / We like free speech but we love free cable." And then there's "Head (of State)," in which Bush and Hussein perform fellatio upon each other, as part of the larger metaphor of being in bed together.

If there's a statement of purpose on the album, though, it's "Laugh/Love/Fuck," in which Riley raps, "I'm here to laugh, love, fuck, and drink liquor / And help the damn revolution come quicker."

"What I try to put forth into my music is hope," Riley explains. "A lot of times we hear about all the problems in the world, and they're told to us in a doom-and-gloom way, like 'The ruling class is so powerful there's nothing we can do about it.' The more problems we hear about, the less we feel there's something we can do...The only thing that's going to keep people fighting is a love for life."

The Coup's music attempts to reinforce that zeal. Riley's new tracks are more vibrant than ever, helped for the first time by live drums, as well as the able playing of local guitarists Eric McFadden and David James, Rage Against the Machine's axman Tom Morello and Dwayne Wiggins of Tony! Toni! Tone! "My Favorite Mutiny" has a martial, neo-Motown vibe to it; "We Are the Ones" features a driving beat and Prince-ish synths. The loping rhythms of "ShoYoAss" and chanted chorus of "Laugh/Love/Fuck" sound ripe for summertime car-stereo blasting.

"The idea is to put out songs that can become anthems," Riley says.

It remains to be seen whether Epitaph -- a traditionally punk label that has recently released discs by rap artists Blackalicious, Atmosphere and Sage Francis -- can be the one to finally break the Coup. "This is our fourth label -- fourth time's the charm, they say," Riley chuckles. "This will be the first time our record is in all the stores on the release date...Two months ago was the first time we ever had a marketing meeting. I'm really excited about the possibilities."

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