Album: The Coup

Party Music, Tommy Boy/75 Ark
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

That's Party Music as in political party, one presumes, given the upbringing of the Coup's mainman, Boots Riley – he's the son of a Black Panther lawyer – and his history of revolutionary community activism. "I'm a pre-OG Dark Soviet socialist," as the rapper puts it, explaining just how far out on a limb he's prepared to go for his principles in an America increasingly contemptuous of such matters.

Riley's unflinching anti-establishment rhetoric seems particularly courageous at the current time, when none, apparently, may criticise their government's war strategy. Indeed, given the way that mainstream US media commentators have been summarily dismissed for the most trifling murmurs of dissent recently, an album such as Party Music serves to underline hip-hop's importance as the underground bush telegraph of the disenfranchised, tracks such as "Ghetto Manifesto" and "5 Million Ways To Kill A C.E.O." offering an astringent counterbalance to the constant tickertape of business news on stations such as CNN.

With Public Enemy a spent force, Riley is the most vociferous and intelligent political rapper operating today, with a cool grasp of Marxist dialectic and the ability to extrapolate beyond localised distractions to the global realpolitik lurking behind: "They own sweat shops, pet cops and fields of cola/control the Pope, Dalai Lama, Holy Rollers and the Ayatolla". It's revolutionary post-Panther street protest which tries to bring a degree of geopolitical perspective to a lyrical form in grave danger of suffocating in its own nihilism.

Riley realises as much, leavening his attacks on capitalism, cops and the idle rich with scathing sideswipes at rap's gangsta culture, its consumerist acquiescence and misdirected anger. "You s'posed to be fed up by now/Turn the system upside down," he chides, recommending that young gang-bangers "make the sets grow into brigades" to fight for their rights, rather than dilute their energies through petty ghetto rivalries and hedonist dissipation: "If we put down the XO, we could let the threats go". His attitude towards women, meanwhile, is in stark contrast to hip-hop's usual knee-jerk debasement. "Nowalaters", a letter to his former wife, is wistful and respectful, while his pride, affection and sense of responsibility is nowhere stronger than in "Wear Clean Draws", a letter to his daughter that manages to be paternal without being paternalistic – and still manages to get in a few digs at nursery indoctrination: "Tell your teacher I said princesses are evil/How they got all they money was they killed people".

The rhetoric is simpler and more direct than on previous Coup albums, Riley accepting there's no point in alienating his core constituency with complex terminology. He's also sharp enough to realise that in order to move hearts and minds, it's necessary to move bodies first. Accordingly, he and DJ Pam The Funkstress have taken pains to make Party Music their most infectious release yet, full of quacking synthesizers, gurgling wah-wahs, handclaps, singalong hooks and the deep, dark undertow of early-Seventies funk, harking back fondly to an era when social conscience elevated black music to a higher level through Marvin, Stevie, Sly and Curtis. Protest album of the year, by a million-man march.

Comments