Rapper, singer, keyboardist, and songwriter Boots Riley has forever used his anticapitalist rhetoric for the good. Long before 1993 and his band the Coup's left-leaning debut, Kill My Landlord, the Bay Area native was a political activist dedicated to consciousness and change.
Riley's recent direct involvement with the Occupy Oakland movement only sharpened his ideas about how his groove affected the masses.
"It's not as if being hands-on with Occupy changed my perspective as to how I work as an artist," says Riley, who is from Chicago. "I never even thought of myself as an artist per se until like Party Music," Riley says with a laugh, citing his band's 2001 album. "Before that, I was just a guy who played music and got involved with various organizations. The idea of doing music for me was to broaden the message. What working in Occupy did do was change my perspective as to how my music could be used to inspire people." Which it does, big-time, with its call to peaceful revolution and financial equality. "I don't think what I'm talking about is hard for people to get with," he says. "Sometimes the semantics of it all catches people up. What's wrong with the public democratically controlling the wealth?"
Not a thing, when you hear the aggressive agit-prop of the Coup's newest album, Sorry to Bother You. Based on his time as a telemarketer (its title refers to the opening line he often used on the job, as well as his interruption of the status quo), the recording has a rock-opera concept to it. Riley currently is penning a magical-realist script for a film of the same name for the producers behind The Ice Storm, Happiness, and Eat Drink Man Woman. "The high concept of the story was like bricks that fill in a wall," Riley says.
In Sorry to Bother You, the biggest change for the Coup's ever-provocative sound is the groove itself. Rather than their usual loping hip-hop or acid-jazzy aplomb, Riley, band, and guests such as guitarist Vernon Reid and vocalist Joe Henry go for something far more aggressive, with a brand of funk-punk not far from George Clinton's Parliament.
"We wanted this album to reflect our live vibe," Riley says. "We rock the live show. I wanted that, only more danceable."
Ask him if the aggressiveness of Sorry was a way to support his cutting lyrics, Riley starts to laugh. "I needed it to be exciting," he says. "One thing that frees us up to be whatever we want it to be is that we've never been successful. I cannot say that there is a formula that works. There is always a large group of our fans that, with each album, get angry with us because each new record doesn't sound like the last one did. We are not tied to any idea because of all the money we made, so I'm just trying to get better at what we do without [ticking] too many people off."