There are six albums by The Coup. Boots Riley heads the group. There’s an explanation of what we’re doing here in the Part 1 piece. This is Part 2. Let’s keep it movin’.
REVIEW: “Look up “bonkers” in any good dictionary and the first entry should be Sorry to Bother You, the loony directorial debut from rapper Boots Riley (best known as frontman of political hip-hop group The Coup). It’s a live-wire comedy with a social conscience, a commentary on race, labor, and American capitalism that veers in so many directions that it’s best to just strap in and let it take you where it wants you to go.” — vox
SONG(s): “Pizza Man (Skit)”, “The Repo Man Sings for You”, “Underdogs”, “Sneakin’ In”, “Do My Thang (skit)”, & “Piss on Your Grave” from Steal This Album
I know, I know. I just figured if I began the last post with a cheat, why not do it one more time? So, we’re staying with Steal This Album AND adding multiple tracks for one more entry (it’s a multiple cheat)…basically, because we kinda have to.
Boots updates “Repo Man” from his previous album Genocide & Juice by taking the concepts in the original song and elaborating on them creating a “bonkers” adventure on Steal This Album that is stretched out over six tracks. Think James Baldwin taking John Grimes in his short story “The Outing” and creating the classic novel Go Tell It on the Mountain with the character. Boots does his best storytelling on Steal along with mastering his use of the humor/political revolution dichotomy, and it all comes together in this succession of tracks that are connected by individual skits and interludes in the beginning as well as end of songs. Be sure to read that movie review above one more time…
The “Pizza Man (Skit)” features Del the Funky Homosapien as a repo man posing as a pizza delivery man. Pretty sure most of the skit is ad-libbed as there’s a great moment when Del genuinely laughs after the woman he’s duping exclaims, “Hold on, Buster!” From there “The Repo Man Sings for You” as Del continues as the repo man for the first verse explaining he’s “just doing my [his] job” while Boots as a narrator in the second verse describes attempting to avoid the repo man in any way possible (“Bill collectors make my phone rattle. Tell my kids, ‘Don’t tattle!'”). It’s funny when it’s a tv but turns tragic by the end of the song when a woman begins crying over a refrigerator that’s been repossessed.
This transitions to our narrator proclaiming love and support for his “Underdogs” as well as calling for a revolution. It’s a really beautiful song. Hold on! It looks like the narrator was the woman’s partner, “This morning they repoed all our shit,” he tells a friend who has just called him at the end of the song. The friend invites him out to get his mind off the repossession: “How we gonna get in for free?!” This leads to tales of “Sneakin’ In” to different places (which apparently is nowhere to be found on the internet, so you can read the lyrics in that link).
After sneakin’ in to a movie theater in the “Do My Thang (skit)” the narrator and friend get kicked out and as they’re walking come across a funeral for a one “Filthy Richbanks” (Did you read that movie review excerpt above? You should really read that excerpt!). They sneak into the funeral by the narrator carrying his friend in his arms while pretending his friend is a paralyzed organ player who’s been booked for the funeral. This becomes a brilliant use of a looped organ chord in the next track (the narrator’s friend doesn’t know how to play the organ, so the narrator instructs him to just play the same chord over and over). As the organ chord is playing, we hear the narrator say, “I’d like to pay my respects.” And can you guess how “Piss on Your Grave” begins by this point? Heeeeeeeey,
The narrator pisses on Filthy Richbanks at the funeral and by the end of the song somehow ends up at Arlington National Cemetery pissing on George Washington’s grave.
It doesn’t matter that somehow we ended up in DC. It doesn’t matter that George’s grave is not in the Arlington Cemetery but in Mount Vernon, VA, with Martha. It DOES matter that we figure out how we went from someone’s things being repossessed to pissing on George Washington’s grave. It really does matter.
In case you didn’t scroll back to the movie review above, a reminder: “It’s a live-wire comedy with a social conscience, a commentary on race, labor, and American capitalism that veers in so many directions that it’s best to just strap in and let it take you where it wants you to go.” Word.
REVIEW: “And then the film unfolded…There’s nothing safe about Boots Riley’s film—nothing predictable, nothing derivative or generic, nothing routine..” — rogerebert.com
SONG: “Nowalaters” from Party Music
Alright, we’re now officially on to the second half of The Coup catalogue; it’s a new album and song. Some quick history, even before it dropped this album was considered unsafe with its symbolic album cover.
The crazy coincidence is that this was created BEFORE 9/11 with the album being scheduled for a September release in 2001. It was intended to symbolize The Coup’s music destroying Capitalism as Boots detonates an explosion with a bass guitar tuner and Pam the Funkstress (RIP) conducting the music with two drum sticks. After the tragedy, the album was delayed until November with a new album cover (seen in the youtube link for the song above) still ostensibly using the same metaphor but in a vastly different way.
With the story song on this album, Boots goes autobiographical with “Nowalaters” (How did you pronounce Now & Laters as a kid? Like this song? Noworlaters? I literally have never met anyone who pronounced it “correctly” or as separate words!). In the first verse we get a seventeen year old, virginal Boots with a girl who remains nameless and is much more experienced than him (“Well we was only seventeen // But you was older in between”). Boots continues his penchant for creating songs with humor that go against the grain of what’s common in hip hop. He’s not smooth or a player, and he doesn’t have a strong idea of what he’s doing: “goddamn, nigga, that ain’t how ya get it in” (I remember laughing and rewinding that line like 28 times the first time I heard it).
In the second verse, Boots finds out the girl is pregnant, and he decides to get a job to support her (twist 1). In the third verse, the girl informs Boots (twist 2) that he is not the father (damn, I hate that show; but, on the real, there should be more Black gymnasts in the Olympics). Is Boots pissed? Does he want revenge? Is this a warning to all the men out there to be careful or you might get played? Nope. Boots is empathetic (“I know you must have been scared”), says it would’ve been nice to see the kid grow up, and thanks the girl for being honest (“Thank you for letting me go”). Oh! Boots does have a request for the girl (and us?): “And ask my wife, I learned to fuck much better”…LOL, men are gonna men.
REVIEW: “A Wild, Hilarious & Stylish Comedy…it’s an irreverent comedy with a great deal of silliness to balance its more grounded themes” — Screen Rant
SONG: “Head (of State)” from Pick a Bigger Weapon
Remember making fun of kids sitting in a tree k-i-s-s-i-n-g? So does Boots who flips that old ditty for this irreverent and silly chorus:
Bush and Hussein together in bed//
Giving H-E-A-D head//
Y’all motherfuckers heard what we said//
Billions made and millions dead//
What proceeds is a one verse history lesson connecting Bush Sr., CIA, Standard Oil, and Saddam Hussein. By this fifth album, this is pretty classic Boots. He takes the humor of the nursery rhyme (as well as the imagery of that rhyme!) and applies it to give some stark morals. “In a land not very far from here” the very unfairy tale begins, and in just twenty-eight lines Boots supports the chorus with a little over a century of historical interpretation coming to the conclusion that “[w]ar ain’t about one land against the next // It’s po’ people dyin so the rich cash checks.” I guess the chorus isn’t that silly.
REVIEW: “The film industry loves to indulge actors who get the directing bug, for better or worse — you can look at this year’s (or any other) Sundance lineup for proof of that. Sorry to Bother You makes me wish that more musicians did. I’m not sure very many of them would look like Boots Riley’s rambunctious, surreal comedy, but you can feel the difference in a film whose director is listening to it with the same attentiveness that they’re watching it. While the front man of the Oakland funk-punk-soul collective the Coup has plenty of off-kilter visual ideas to serve up in his feature film debut, he always makes sure to keep our ears just as entertained.
…this is what I want out of revolution-minded cinema in 2018 — something loud, inventive, and absolutely impolite” — Vulture
SONG: “We’ve Got A Lot to Teach You, Cassius Green” from Sorry to Bother You
This is from the album Sorry to Bother You which was inspired by the screen play Sorry to Bother You. As Boots recently said in an interview with Terry Gross, “I finished writing the script. I got to the end the first time in 2012. And I needed a way to get a buzz going about the script because I didn’t know anyone in the film world. So I made an album that was inspired by the screenplay.” By this sixth album, Boots and The Coup have a bit less rapping, and the movie review is pretty accurate to call them a “funk-punk-soul collective.” I think every album is musical, but it’s very obvious that Boots is much more into musical exploration and experimentation on this album and song (Just peep the accordion finishing off the last minute of this song for proof!). In fact, the music is so good on this song, it’s to me one of the rare hip-hop songs in which the imagery pops more intensely by actually reading the lyrics as your listening.
We get “off-kilter visual ideas” immediately as Boots describes a corporate boardroom monster wiping blood off his fangs in the first two lines. Is this a metaphor? Is it a horror story? Is it all of the above? There’s a pile of corpses on the boardroom table. We don’t know if they’re human bodies or dead monsters, but we do know the head monster’s assistant leads to the chorus which doubles as the title of the song. Verse two continues the gruesome imagery with the assistant crouching “in a puddle of urine and meat.” We don’t know why, but there are screams outside of the building. The verse finishes with Cassius being welcomed into the room. The third verse gives us what hopefully you’ve come to expect from Boots after reading all of this (you have read every word in both posts, right? right?!)…the twist. Cassius, disgusted, turns to leave the boardroom only to be told, “You’ve forgotten. You’re one of us.” He turns down to discover his own monster tail aaaaaaaaaand cue chorus.
Is “We’ve Got A Lot to Teach You, Cassius Green” a movie spoiler? I honestly don’t know yet. All I know is writing these two posts has me that much more excited for the premiere of Sorry to Bother You and convinced that Boots is an incredible storyteller. Go watch the movie. Buy the albums. Talent’s gonna talent.