In the nearly five years since Boots Riley and Pam the Funkstress, the incendiary duo behind the Coup, dropped their last album, world events have given the group plenty of fodder for their politically charged music. The Coup raised eyebrows with 2001's “Party Music” after refusing to change the album cover, which featured Boots on the business end of a detonator wired to the Twin Towers; fatefully, “Party Music” was scheduled to be released that September but was shelved by their label and ultimately released later with a new cover, even though the original had been designed months before September 11.
Still hurling verbal Molotov cocktails, the Coup is back with the same fervor and invective with “Pick a Bigger Weapon,” aimed largely at the same targets. The self proclaimed Marxist hip-hoppers leave no questions about their politics and distaste for nuance — thankfully, they make up for their lack of subtlety with genuine fun. The Coup makes music for the revolution’s afterparty.
Leading the charge with bravado, a funky bassline, synth loops and handclaps is Boots declaring that he's “a walking contradiction like bullets and love mixed” — the sort of line music critics love because it practically writes their opening paragraph. He sets the tone, though, as if to warn any fence sitters in the crowd that this isn't the standard “socially aware” hip-hop album, these are fighting words.
Following is the somewhat spooky “We Are the Ones,” another warning shot fired across the bow. Other than on the chorus, Boots drops his regular posture for a flow reminiscent of Andre 3000, or perhaps Phillip Seymour Hoffman's Truman Capote. The track is also a perfect introduction to Boots’ combination of effortless storytelling, mixed flow and often brilliant wordsmithing.
“Laugh / Love / F---” continues with these themes while adding another of the group's trademarks: music to make love and throw Molotov cocktails to. Boots doesn't strike me as a mopey, navel-gazing type, silently indignant at the state of the world and perpetually lonely; rather, he's in the streets where the people are. When he proclaims the virtues of “Laugh, love, f--- and drink liquor,” you know it's because he's right there, doing it all with his fellow revolutionaries.
If the Coup ever got radio play, “My Favorite Mutiny” would be the single, and for good reason, as it's the best track on the album. Led off by Roots frontman Black Thought, “Mutiny” plays over an R&B bed that's impossible not to move to, with flares of muted horns that can only be described as pure delight. Hip-hop luminary Talib Kweli feeds off Boots' bridge and brings his own form of righteous indignation that's equally inspired and inspirational.
It's at this point that the album levels off and even gets a little muddled. Barak Obama quipped recently that liberals are often accused of not standing for anything, but really they stand for everything. This same sense pervades the album, as if it's got so much to say it doesn't know where to start.
“Pick a Bigger Weapon” takes aim at so many targets, from the Iraq war to the war on drugs to Walmart and Coca-Cola, that the message gets lost. They do throw in the occasional slow jam, as if to say it's time for a break to work on the next generation of monkeywrenchers. Previous albums have shown a wider scope, though, like the struggles of raising a daughter, where “Pick a Bigger Weapon” stays more singularly political.
Which isn't to say that the album is preachy or dour, as the left is so often accused of being. Al Gore's pre-“SNL” demeanor may be the butt of countless jokes, but the Coup is genuinely fun. The sultry “Baby Let's Have A Baby Before Bush Do Something Crazy” may be the most perfect combination of protest song and R&B jam since “What's Going On.” In fact, “Pick a Bigger Weapon” is that rare combination of music that makes you want to get up and dance and then spill into the streets to start a protest.
For more information on the Coup, visit: http://www.thecoupmusic.net/.