Interview Archive: Boots Riley Of The Coup Part Two of Two!! (2001)

October 31, 2012 11 min read







RedefineHipHop: The song that caught my attention the most on the first LP was probably "Dig It". I thought I understood everything in it, but the chorus (from MC Lyte-"do you understand the metaphoric phrase...") almost made me feel like maybe I was missing something else. Explain the concept behind the song and significance of the title and how it all relates to the chorus...

Boots: There are metaphoric phrases all over the place... or what they call metaphors in rap, which really aren't metaphors. Plus (the MC Lyte) was something production wise that sounded tight and "Dig It" (means) understand it (a.k.a) 'do you understand the metaphoric phrase'. You probably got everything there was to get in there. At that time, to be considered to have real good lyrics you had to be abstract..that was the trend at the time. I knew I had to (show) people I had skills, but I never really liked that whole abstract trend where you could just say something and then tell people what the meaning is later and seem like you're deep. If people don't get it then there's something wrong with what you are saying because the whole reason you're saying it is for them to get it...

RedefineHipHop: I always felt the title of the first LP made a powerful and long lasting statement. For example, I had the promo T-shirt and to this day my Mother uses it for an example. If she wants me to go somewhere particular she'll always say something like, 'Wear something nice. You can't wear any Kill My Landlord shirts'. She says it as a joke, but it clearly is made an impression on her. What made you use that?

Boots:That is an analogy for the system. The landlords are the people that are controlling the system and I do believe that's what it's going to come down kill them. Unless they give up things willing, but we know through out history that the landlords of the world, meaning the bigger corporations, do not give things up willingly and they are killing people everyday to keep their wealth. The reason that I broke it down to a personal "Kill My Landlord" is because I like to express myself through personal (experience). It's not just through the macro-analysis of what's going on in the world. I don't think that motivates people because it alienates people (with information that some may not feel relates to them). What I'm more talking about is what you deal with in your daily life and how does it effect you. The only way I can talk about what you deal with is just through me thinking about what I deal with. The feeling that comes from how much of our life is dictated...where we are going, what kind of parents we are or able to be, is dictated by the amount we are exploited or not exploited.

RedefineHipHop:After the first album was the plan already set to do the second album with Wildpitch and were they supportive of doing a 2nd release?

Boots: It actually seemed like it was taking a lot longer than it did. We had just got off the promotional tour and they were like, 'Start working on a second album'. That time I got to do a lot more production wise with what I wanted to do, budget wise, since we did the first album ourselves basically. Some people like "Kill My Landlord" better, but my personal favorite production wise is "Genocide & Juice". I was able to get my vision from my head to the actually tape. (Also), we had started being in the same management company as E-40, Spice One, & Master P, which was a good thing, because what l like musically (as an artist) is very eclectic and I don't necessarily like my albums that I listen to (as a fan) like that...I like them a little more focused. That album probably came about like that because the people I was playing it (for) were also there in the studio making albums, so that's how that sound came out. I was also able to do a lot more things the concepts. It seems that with every album I make I'm going back and fixing some things that I didn't do with the (previous) album. It started out that I wanted to do one album that was one long story with each song leading you through the story. I didn't realize how hard that would be, so that's why it ended up only being the first 3 songs. (It was a matter of time) because the label was pressing me to get the album done.

RedefineHipHop: Let's discuss your storytelling ability. I think that "Fat Cats. Bigga Fish" is probably the best story even written in Hip Hop. As an MC, where does that ability to write with such detail come from?

Boots:What's funny is I had written "Pimps" first and we were going to try to submit it for some soundtrack...I think it was for Menace To Society. I didn't get it done in time, but I was thinking on that mode of the image of black folks thinking they were gangstas. I started thinking "How does someone get to this situation". I went backwards from there and I was like what is the pertinent information…going back to the personal day to day information that may be talked about at this party. Also, I went to San Francisco State University for filmmaking, so a lot of my songs are movie concepts, so they end up being real descriptive because I'm actually seeing it visual, so I try to use different words and textures to compensate for the fact that there is no movie you can watch while you are listening. Other than that it just gets back to the things I learned from listening to people like Rakim, Slick Rick and even lce Cube. One of my favorite things from Ice Cube, storytelling wise, is from "Once Upon A Time In The Projects". There are things in there that are simple, but yet are some of the tightest lyrics that I've ever heard. He says, 'l sat on the couch, but it wasn't stable/Then I put my Nikes on the coffee table". He describes that "it wasn't stable". Then he doesn't just say he kicked back. He says "I put my Nikes..." and that gives you a visual of his foot. In song writing, people don't always do those things that give you a picture of what's going on. Don't just say 'I went to the store'. Tell them how it felt to go to the store. What you saw, what you smelled, so that they go to the store with you instead of just knowing you went to the store. I figured out that I wanted to talk about gentrification and how can I bring people with me because if I would have just said "Let's talk about gentrification"....ain't nobody tying to hear me.(However) if they come with me on this story and eavesdrop on somebody after they follow me through pick-pocketing and trying to get a free hamburger, then they wanna know what I'm going to do next. Then they are totally involved. It's all a means to an end and I think that's what gives me my drive. I know a lot of people who are rappers, who I respect, that don't have a reason to do it. The only reason that they have left is to make people think they are raw, so a lot of rappers all that they rap about is the fact that they are raw. I'm like "Why are you raw? Are you raw just to tell me that you are raw? Is that how you are going to show me that you are raw, is to tell me that you are raw?" A lot of writing doesn't just flow. It's not an easy thing for me to do. That's one of the reasons l'm not a good freestyler at all because freestyling takes being open with yourself and OK with anything that comes out your mouth and letting it flow. The way that I write, I'm not OK with that. Every line to me has to be the shit. Every word has to work and have a reason for being there, not just to set up the next line. To me, that's a waste of time because you are putting energy, words and time into people ears that they could have used for something else. A lot of my writing is writing and rewriting. Sometimes I can't move on until I figure out what is going to happen later that this is going to lead up to and that probably comes from screen writing and things being cohesive.

RedefineHipHop:After hearing "Fat Cats, Bigga Fish" I didn't think it could be easily outdone, but then you out did yourself with "Jesus The Pimp...". The song seems to have more to it than the basic story suggests...

Boots: A lot of people think that I'm talking about religion, but I using religion to talk about something else. It's talking about two things. On the surface, it's talking about prostitution and Hip Hop culture’s love affair with prostitution and how does sexism hurt men. (Sexism is) directed towards women and it hurts women, but how in turn does that hurt men, because l can't write about sexism from a woman's viewpoint because I'm not a woman. On a deeper level, it's talking about the myth of black capitalism. "Jesus the Pimp" represents black capitalism and what it does and the idea that you can be part of the system...the idea that's the answer for black people. My music is universal. I consider myself an internationalist and what I mean by that is it takes the whole working class to defeat the ruling class, but my experience is in the black community. As I grew up listening to Hip Hop it was pretty much, for all intents and purposes, out of the black community and towards the black community, so that's basically who l'm writing to. The people that I grew up around and living around and that's why it deals with that. Not only do they worship the pimp image, but they worship the idea that black capitalism is the savior. That's why it's "Me and Jesus the Pimp In a '79 Granada last Nite". I incorrectly thought the Granadian revolution happened in '79, but it was really '81.The '79 Granada was supposed to represent a socialist revolution. That was one of those things that has some things in there for me to masturbate mentally on. I think it's more powerfully about sexism and how does that keep men from achieving their potential by oppressing women.

RedefineHipHop:That's important to me because I've just recently had that revelation. I think a lot of us have learned to block it out and put on blinders to that. I've never been one to disrespect women like that, but I've always listened to songs that did. I think we learn to take it all as part of Hip Hop. However, recently with my daughters, niece, and nephews getting older, l've begun to view it differently by seeing how they accept it or don't even understand what they are saying when they song along with nearly all the songs on the radio. That's why I've recently taken a more direct stance on that and I've made the statement that I will avoid playing songs on the radio that treat women in a sexist manner. Not the artists in general, because that's nearly unavoidable, but just the songs where they focus on it...

Boots: That's a good thing. Adding to that, there are people who have contradictions. There are people with very progressive messages, but they also have those contradictions and one reason why those exist is because the movement is not big enough. Once we get the movement bigger those things will disappear. For example, James Brown didn't make "Back and I'm Proud" out of the blue. People were criticizing him because of his perm...the movement was growing past where James Brown was and he made "Black and I'm Proud" as a way to be like 'I'm with the people now'. We'll see a change in the music as we see a change in the movement and how it effects peoples lives.

RedefineHipHop: On the third album we heard less of EROC. Where is he now and will he have a part in the new LP?

Boots: In between the second and third album he got a job being a long shoreman and he makes (good money). He has 3 kids and at that point we hadn't gotten paid for any album we had done, so I couldn't in good conscious be like, "You should quit that job and be dedicated to this". We're still good friends and I see him at least once a week. Basically, the way that came about was that he was mainly along for the ride. He was down to do it, but it wasn't all the way his passion. He may have an appearance here or there, but The Coup is now me and Pam (The Funstress).

RedefineHipHop: Which leads into my next thing. I was glad that The Coup kept a spotlight on the DJ. A lot of groups in general didn't do that. Even more so with political/social based groups and then even more so with the incorporation of live instrumentation. How important was it for you to have PAM be a strong part of the group?

Boots:lt (is) real important. You can just take it to the practical sense because for the show we wanted her to have presence so people know when they come to see a Coup show they are going to get a DJ show also. That's an element that needs to be in music that sound wise always balances out what I do. I'm not really into doing stuff just for tradition sake, but with the DJ it really brings out something. (Scratching) is a good sound, it's a percussive sound, a rhythmic sound and it can also be a melodic sound that can go in there and add a lot to the production and I think people should throw that in a little bit more.

RedefineHipHop: What can people expect on the new album (“Party Music”)?

Boots:I don't want to say it's different because every time I try make something that's different, everyone always says it just sounds like a progression of what I've been doing. Since we've had our own studio to track in, musically, I think it's 10 leaps past the last album. Conceptually, l'm able to make things flow together a lot more. Some of the stuff l'm a little concerned about because I don't think they have been done before. I say concerned, but I'm happy and I want to do it. I want to see what people’s faces look like (when hearing) some of the songs. We're working with some people. We got Dead Prez on this single coming out ("Get Up"). There are two versions of that. There are some other collaborations, which I think are real good.

RedefineHipHop;One last oddball question, while looking for information on The Coup on the internet I stumbled across this press release about The Coup touring with Puffy. Did that actually happened and how did it come about?

Boots:Yeah, we were on tour in England with Puffy. We had a record out there and there was a promoter and he was like 'It's going to be 10,000 seater venues and I'll bring you out here and put you on there.' Those were the biggest shows we had ever done. Basically, we were trying to break ourselves out there because our first two albums never came out over there. More of what we got out of that was not just the people who came to the show, but it was all the articles we were able to get…


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