Sorry to Bother You (Anti)
I was fortunate enough to stumble upon The Coup at the perfect time. I had just started playing in another punk rock band and I asked the older, more open-minded members of the group if there were any hip hop outfits that didn’t sing songs degrading women and praising money. They suggested The Coup, which was convenient because it was immediately following the release of Party Music, which I proceeded to buy from Wax Trax. The album directly resonated with my radical sensibilities, bestowing upon me the knowledge that non-punks could also create ingenious protest music.
But with the release of the new album, I had no idea what to expect — especially since the group released the underwhelming Pick A Bigger Weapon and Boots Riley formed Street Sweeper Social Club with Tom Morello in the meantime.
Of course, now I realize I had nothing to worry about, since Sorry To Bother You is a masterpiece of an album from beginning to end. Opting to pretty much eschew Pam the Funktress altogether (though she makes an appearance or two throughout the record), Boots raps over a backing band that utilizes bass, drums, and guitar, but also doesn’t shy away from less traditional instruments like accordions, kazoos, and violins. And of course, the lyrical content is as focused and biting as ever, with references to the Occupy Movement, the plight of folks on welfare, and dancing on the bar nude after a rousing protest.
At first I was reluctant to say that this is The Coup’s finest work — especially since Party Music had such a profound effect on me. But after listening to this record dozens and dozens of times, I can confidently proclaim this to be the group’s best. And after seeing them on this tour, I think that I may be in love with Boots and Silk-E.
The Track-by-Track Breakdown
1. “The Magic Clap.” If there’s one thing that Boots Riley wants us to do, it’s to dance at the Revolution. The album’s opener stokes the fires of discontent with a beat that gets the party moving. Quotable: “Countin’ up all that dough you owe / You ain’t sposed to know it’s opposable / We are not disposable / Muscle up kid / We got blows to throw.”
2. “Strange Arithmetic.” In an homage to revolutionary teachers around the world, track two urges our instructors to shine some light on the indignities and injustices of our hierarchical system over a fuzzed out moog riff and driving rhythm. Quotable: “Home Ec can teach you how to make a few sauces and accept low pay from your Walmart bosses.”
3. “Your Parents’ Cocaine.” Imagine an early Clash song, but replace the distorted guitars with a chorus of kazoos, throw in a scathing belittlement of rich kids (and guest lyrical accompaniment from Justin Sane, no less), and you’d have “Your Parents’ Cocaine.” (I highly recommend looking the video up on Youtube, by the by.)
4. “The Gods Of Science.” If the previous song seems overdone, “The Gods of Science” atones for it with its hip hop minimalism, which impeccably showcases Boots’ smooth lyrical onslaught.
5. “My Murder, My Love.” There are two songs that bring a smile to my face every time I hear them (see “Long Island Ice Tea, Neat” for the other). This is the first one: A soulful tune that perfectly juxtaposes Boots’ flow with a laid-back rhythm. Quotable: (There were so many to choose from on this song — which means you should probably just get the album so you can appreciate them for yourself — but I narrowed it down to these two…) “I’m alive through the power of explosion: Colt 45 and a busted Trojan.” And, “Let me clarify things with the way I strut so I can shout with my mouth shut.”
6. “You Are Not A Riot (An RSVP from David Siqueiros to Andy Warhol).” If the instrumental make up of this song were different (more distorted guitars, less pianos and nord electros), this would sound like a straight up agitprop punk song. Of course the fact that it’s not a punk song doesn’t take anything away from its sheer power. Quotable: “You upper-crusty punk.” (I love that one, because I’ve known a lot of them.)
7. “Land of 7 Billion Dances.” Until I saw the video to this song, it wasn’t one of my favorites. But after viewing what is more or less a love letter to the people of Oakland, I have learned to let it love me too.
8. “Violet.” Rapping over a string arrangement about turning tricks and falling in love with a prostitute makes my heart full enough to burst. (No shit.) If there’s a song on the album that’s beautiful enough to make me cry, it’s this one.
9. “This Year.” This song makes me fall in love with Silk-E, who provides the exquisite, soul-affirming voice gracing the lead vocals on “This Year.” While I think this one took the most warming up to, it has since become one of my favorites. Quotable: “Decided I’m gon live if I am gon have to die.”
10. “We’ve Got A Lot To Teach You, Cassius Green.” Rounding out the slower, contemplative side C of the record, “We’ve Got A Lot To Teach You, Cassius Green” incorporates instruments uncommon in the world of hip hop: an accordion, washboard, violin, and acoustic bass. It’s a ballad that never loses its grove as Boots imagines a nightmarish scenario of beasts who only care about “mountains of stuff.”
11. “Long Island Ice Tea, Neat.” Have you ever heard a tune that makes you close your eyes and thank the forces of the universe for giving you life? This is that song for me. Every time I hear it, I crank up the volume and let it take me away. It’s like I want to crawl up inside the song and live there for a week or two, just because it’s so damn beautiful. The instrumental arrangement is reminiscent of Nomeansno (courtesy of the guys from Japanther) and the lyrics depict an elevated sense of being inspired by a political victory. Quotable: “Today we struck a blow for all us in servitude / But the thousands of people got me drunker than the booze.”
12. “The Guillotine.” This moog- and guitar-friendly groover advocates the violent overthrow of the oppressive capitalist system. (It’s a perfect soundtrack for a nice dinner party, or a riot.)