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[whitespace] Top Bill for Coup

Radical rappers defy beat-head stereotypes at Palookaville show

By David Espinoza

NEVER UNDERESTIMATE the drawing power of a good hip-hop show. Take Berkeley's the Coup, a group whose live performances appear to be garnering bigger crowds each time the band hits Santa Cruz. Perhaps it's the radical working-class message delivered by band leader MC Boots Riley, or the incorporation of live instruments (once a rarity in rap), a tactic that fits well with the Santa Cruz audience. Defying stereotypes of what the typical beat head is suppose to look like, a diverse crowd (albeit mostly college age) filled Palookaville Jan. 15 to welcome back Riley and crew.

Similar to San Francisco neighbors Spearhead, the band that backs up Riley and DJ Pam the Funkstress is a multi-ethnic representation not only of the metropolitan Bay Area but also of hip-hop culture itself. Unlike Michael Franti though, who tends to support a plethora of lofty causes, Riley focuses on less-glamorous issues like minimum-wage jobs and repo men. This attention to common grievances, coupled with the old-school way in which Riley raps about them, means the Coup has little chance of going mainstream. That's all fine and well--some of the best work comes from bands that refuse to dilute their message for commercial success--though to say it's been a easy ride for the Coup would be a lie.

Halfway through the 90-minute set, Riley took a break to explain how the video for the song "Me and Jesus the Pimp in a '79 Granada Last Night" had been rejected by MTV, BET, and the Box because it was "too grim"--not for the graphics, mind you, but for the content. The second track from the Coup's latest release, Steal This Album, describes a wife-beating alcoholic pimp father who teaches his son to always "keep a bitch broke." The song concludes by pointing out the disastrous effects prostitution has had on the lives of so many women and men.

Despite the Coup's telling lyrics, Saturday's show was not without its drawbacks. Guest trumpeteer Eddie Gale, a veteran musician who has played with Miles Davis, was more of a burden than a blessing, squeaking out notes that rarely complimented the songs. Turntable queen Pam the Funkstress also had a hard time getting her music cued up on occasion. By midnight, the momentum with which the Coup began was lost behind slowed-down instrumental jams.

Opening band the Most Chill Slack Mob, on the other hand, played an immaculate set, winning the fashionably early crowd over with a candy bag full of hip-hop tricks. Fronted by two positive-vibe-spilling MCs, the Slack Mob danced around a plethora of styles from the methods put forth by the Fifer (formerly of A Tribe Called Quest) to the rump-shaking Tag Team--and even a little Southern-fried R&B a la the Goodie Mob.

Do You Want More?!

If Saturday's P-ville show didn't give you your fill of hip-hop, and the trip up to the city is too far, you'll be happy to know the Blue Lagoon is currently hosting Wednesday-night dance parties with local and Bay Area DJs spinning the best underground artists. A project of Akiva and Mike called Blue Beats, the showcase features local Underground Railroad KZSC DJ Eko and Shortkut of the Invisible Skratch Picklz, just to name a few, on a weekly rotating basis.

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From the January 19-26, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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