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More Than a Party: Rapper Boots Riley and DJ Pam take on the big targets: capitalism, social injustice and government corruption.

New Coup Debut

The revolutionary rappers won't back down

By Jeff Chang

THESE DAYS, it may be dangerous to be a revolution-minded rap act called the Coup. But in recent months, the members of this brilliant, battle-hardened crew--performing Friday at the Catalyst--have refused to make things any easier for themselves.

On Sept. 11 of last year, with the release of Party Music approaching, the album's cover--depicting Bay Area rapper Boots Riley and DJ Pam the Funkstress detonating the World Trade Center with a guitar tuner--suddenly took on a new meaning. The record label hastily replaced the image with a flaming cocktail. (The explosion ended up on the inside cover, blocked by the band's red-star logo.)

Since then, Boots has used his media platform to question U.S. foreign policy, inciting denunciations from both conservatives and liberals.

Hip-hop hasn't been this controversial since the early '90s, when acts like Public Enemy and Ice Cube garnered headlines and fans for their contrarian political stances. On the Coup's fourth record, the group, which proudly proclaims itself anti-corporate and "anti-Republican and -Democrat" ("If they self-destruct, that's anticlimactic," says Boots), comes ready with answers for its critics.

At a time when millionaire rappers waste precious CD time airing their personal beefs with each other, the Coup takes on big targets--capitalist greed, police brutality, government corruption--while trying to connect with the smaller-than-life.

On "Nowalaters," Boots reveals a deep sympathy for a single mother, despite that she once lied to him and claimed he was the baby's father. "I know that you must have been scared," he says. "Thank you for letting me go."

These are not stereotypical tales from the 'hood. On the Coup's previous offering, Steal this Album, Boots' epic "Me and Jesus the Pimp in a '79 Granada Last Night" painted a portrait of an orphaned boy in search of a father figure that was so rich it inspired author Monique Morris' novel Too Beautiful for Words. Like a rap Randy Newman or a hip-hop Tom Waits, Boots has a gift for sketching lovable losers. They are fully human in their failings, poor people just trying to catch a break.

The rich and powerful, on the other hand, bring nothing but misery with their moral certitude and selfishness, and are therefore ripe for Boots' lampooning. On "5 Million Ways to Kill a CEO," Boots cracks, "Tell him that boogers be sellin' like crack. He gon' put the little baggies in his nose, and suffocate like that."

The touching "Wear Clean Draws," dedicated to Boots' baby girl, could be the best cut on an outstanding album. The loving, funny paean advises common sense as the best path through a world in which the odds are consistently stacked: "If somebody hits you, hit 'em back. Then negotiate a peace contract."

These lines are delivered with Boots' distinctively flat Cali drawl over a rough-edged, turntable-hyped, '80s-style funk that points back to the P-Funk All Stars and Prince.

In other words, while political music often proves stiff, pompous and didactic, reduced to mere messages, Party Music really has everything it takes to move the crowd--in the clubs or in the streets.

The Coup performs a 16-and-over show on Friday (March 8) at 9:30pm at the Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $12-$14; 423.1336.

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From the March 6-13, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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