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The Coup enjoy a reputation as one of rap music’s most militantly political bands. For more than 15 years, founding member Boots Riley has preached rebellion. On their latest record, Pick a Bigger Weapon, the funky, self-proclaimed Communist insurrectionary makes clarion calls for the overthrow of the government, pointing out dangerous hypocrisies in our domestic and international policies. Of course, like Emma Goldman, he also wants a revolution you can dance to.
On “Head (of State),” for instance, the man cites the collusion between the Bush administration (both former and current) and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, using a decidedly crass metaphor. The playfulness of the melody underscores the seriousness of the lyrics, creating an effect much like that of seeing a curse word graffitied on a kindergarten wall.
The Coup didn’t play that song on this particular evening, but Riley did lead his group through a primo selection of new and old material. They performed versions of “Laugh/Love/Fuck”, “Get that Monkey off Your Back”, and “Shoyoass”, from the new album as well as some blasts from the past.
Many of the tunes contained explicit, anti-establishment lyrics. Riley rolled out the raps like a well-practiced professional: “I’m here to laugh, love, fuck, and drink liquor/ and make the damn revolution come quicker,” he sang with conviction. While one could see Riley had the faith, he didn’t seem especially interested in inciting the crowd. The singer didn’t make eye contact or call for a response from the audience.
Maybe the demographic was the reason: the relatively sparse audience was overwhelmingly white, middle class, young, and sober. Perhaps this accounted for Riley’s limited interactions with the spectators—these kids looked more like the status quo than the bearers of its destruction. It should be noted that the man did offer some between-song patter, calling for the U.S. to pull out of Iraq, but even that seemed tepid from someone with such an inspired history of opposition to the war.
Riley’s female counterpart, Silk-E, delivered animated gestures and smooth yet strongly articulated vocals. Her sultry and manic lead vocals on “Babylet’shaveababybeforebushdosomethingcrazy” received the night’s most passionate applause. The song’s combination of the personal and the political show that the two realms really can mix well (just slowly sound out the song’s title if you are unclear on the concept). The singer’s a capella turn at the night’s end also offered an inspired conclusion to the festivities. While she’s a new member of the Coup, Silk-E’s contributions indicate that she’ll soon be a force to be reckoned with.
Of course, for all the evening’s high points, the sparse accompaniment backing Riley and Silk-E (just a guitar, bass, and drums) couldn’t recreate the dense, busy pleasures of the group’s recordings. And, after, guest appearances by Audioslave’s Tom Morelli, and Tony! Toni! Tone!‘s Dwayne Wiggans are part of what makes the Coup’s latest record so great. This evening, there was just not enough happening to keep things consistently interesting. Riley performed competently and Silk-E revealed her talents, but they amused more than inspired.
T-Kash and Iselyfe went on immediately before the headliners, rhyming “Kerry is a quitter” with “Bush is Hitler.” Their puerile, outmoded raps were abetted by boring beats and clichéd choreography. This was a shame because local Brooklyn hip hop act Nuclear Family did a wonderful job entertaining the crowd with their early Beastie Boys-style hip-hop. The six-emcee/seven-man band took turns bouncing off each other, spouting deeply philosophic dialogues. The Family also understood how to use humor to make cutting political points—a trait they share with the Coup. When one rapper slickly said that he was “going to keep it mellow because we’re at war,” the thrust of others boldly shouting in rejoinder, “Kill the President,” came as welcome comic relief.
If hip hop is black America’s CNN, as Chuck D once famously said, than the Coup are Air America. Like that leftist radio station, they state their politics boldly, attempting to both entertain and educate. But, on this particular night, the programming just wasn’t at its best. Maybe I should try tuning in again tomorrow.
The Coup - Fat Cats, Bigga Fish [live]