During election season politics is on the minds of many Americans whether they want it to be or not. As Election Day nears many undecided voters will have to make a decision on what issues matter most to them and select the candidate that best represents their values. When it comes to Cali native and The Coup co-founder Boots Riley, our conventional politics and traditional system are what need the most change.
Boots says that if American citizens really want change to come about, they will have to engage in more direct activity than just pulling the lever at the polls.
“Progressive change has never been made through electing the right person,” Boots says. “No matter how aggressive the candidate you vote in is, they’re going to capitulate to the Capitalist class if there is no mass movement so the real thing is is to make a mass movement.”
Boots also explained that corporation control is not something foreign to the music industry either.
“I mean many times they’re nice, major labels are nice, indie labels are nice but they’re in it to make money and it’s clear,” he says. “It doesn’t mean their evil or anything like that. It just means that that is the function of business in this society.”
HipHopDX recently caught up with Boots Riley and discussed the importance citizens have in changing the political dynamic. Boots also talks about The Coup’s new album, Sorry To Bother You and says their latest effort creates a sound that people have never heard before.
Boots Riley Discusses The Coup’s Sorry To Bother You
HipHopDX: What’s been up with Boots recently?
Boots Riley: I’ve been doing these videos, we’ve got “Land of 7 Billion Dances” and “The Magic Clap” out and been doing those. Tomorrow we’re doing Treasure Island Music Festival and then the next day we leave for a European tour for a month and then we come back and do a U.S. tour for a month, and then the album coming out on the 30th.
DX: Sorry to Bother You is coming on the 30th. It’s been a while since the group has put out a collaborative effort, six years? What does it mean to get this one out there after all this time?
Boots Riley: Well, I don’t think about it as all this time cause I’ve been pretty much working on music and now this one is like almost two years but it’s something that feels like it’s allowed a lot more of my influences to come to bare that normally I might fade it out ’cause of having some kind of sense of what genre it’s supposed to sound like. This record is me making music that I like and I didn’t edit it based on that. This also feels much more of a like passionate album than I’ve made before, the way that I really live. I got known early on as like someone who did crazy lyrics and stuff like that but that kind of keeps you at arm’s length from your subject matter, you gotta think of something that’s cleaver and things like that to say and it’s interesting, it’s fun as a sport like, “Oh, look at these flips I can do, snap.” I wanted this to be, I wanted to use those skills I had from doing that to make something that felt more like art, felt like something that tuned in to that passion. Honestly, there are some really great rappers out there that got line after line with something cool and funny or whatever and that’s what I used to go for and I’m still doing that on this but I feel like I’m putting the added layer on top of it of I’m being poetic for other reasons than just words so that’s what I went for.
DX: What can fans expect sound-wise in comparison to your other drops that The Coup have done?
Boots Riley: We played with weird, organic effects on stuff. We used things like broken ribbon mics and things like that so we came up with like some good snare drum sounds on there that we made ourselves with live drums and then the effects that we put stuff through. We just did a lot of crazy stuff and also a lot of the music is weird and it’s in a good way, in a way that I don’t think that [there is] stuff on this album that people can be like, “Oh that sound, I’ve heard this before.” In all of music you can say you’ve heard something like that but there’s definitely, I don’t think you can say that this album sounds like some other album. There’s influences in there and I have them on there but you’ll never be able to say, “This is just like this or just like that.” That’s stylistically and not just musically different. A lot of the thinking was either something that I or me and other musicians kind of came up with right there and sometimes it’s based on something silly or whatever. Like “Your Parent’s Cocaine” came from just, I got the little baggie and I was just messing around with the sound and it did a little silly thing and I was just like, “Fuck, that’s a tight baseline, let’s make this into a song.” “I Murdered My Love” kind of came that same way and then also just to collaborate with people. “Magic Clap” came from me working with my girlfriend Gabby La La was just in there actually the day we met and made up that song. Although everything I do is somewhat thought out, it’s a balance of that and spontaneity involved in the whole process that I think captures a certain sort of version.
DX: I would say it’s as much weird as just different from what’s out there already. You guys have always been more political in your rhymes. Political Rap has taken a hit when it comes to the mainstream but is still relevant when it comes to the underground somewhat. We’ve got the election coming up but not even regarding that, why has that always been your bent and why is that so important to portray?
Boots Riley: The short answer is that I think that for music to be true it has to have a connection to your life and often we’re taught to edit out, often we’re passionate about a lot of things and we’re taught to edit out and only make songs to these certain things that are acceptable to make songs about. The things that I talk about are things that I think about like the issues and not having enough money, the various insecurities about different things, those are things that we all think about so I put it in my music. I also happen to have an analysis that has changed me and so I put that in my music as well so the reason I do that is because it’s a reflection of me.
DX: And speaking on politics, you’ve always been one to speak out about where you stand on issues even if it is somewhat controversial, we have the Occupy movement still in affect but how important is protest in a time of turmoil and especially during an election year?
Boots Riley: Well it has nothing to do with it being an election year. In reality, whoever is in office, you can make whoever gets elected do what you want them to do with a militant mass movement. Separately, no matter how aggressive the candidate you vote in is, they’re going to capitulate to the Capitalist class if there is no mass movement so the real thing is is to make a mass movement. Affirmative Action came into play under Richard Nixon. He’s a right wing ass hole. He did not do it cause he was feeling good that day, he did it cause there were revolutions going on all over the world, people were in the streets and people were taking over facilities. You needed something to throw out there as a bone and that’s the only way that progressive change has ever been made. Progressive change has never been made through electing the right person. This is something that has only come up since the 60s that that’s what has to happen. Do you have to have the right person? In reality no, you have to get a movement going then, it won’t matter who’s in office, you call the shots. The truth is all these things that we think are progressive changes whether it’s civil rights legislation or Medicare or Social Security or even the eight-hour day and the weekend, all of those came from militant mass movement making them happen.
DX: Could you maybe expand on what a “Militant Mass Movement” is?
Boots Riley: It’s a movement in which people can do strikes and work stoppages, hold profits at bay and use that in exchange to negotiate change and that’s just on the reformist level but something that uses direct action and uses masses of people physically with their bodies and so there’s all sorts of forming it can take. In Canada, Fredericton Airport just had an eight-month strike.
DX: Often times it does take direct action. Another movement that involves that kind of direct action is the Occupy Wall Street movement. It protests the economic inequality that is between that top one percent and most of the country. Now it’s at an all-time high. Do you believe that they are effective and why is it that we have this inequality right now?
Boots Riley: I think those sorts of inequalities exist as part of the way Capitalism works. All the profits trickle up to the top and we’re left trying to divide up the crumbs and the only way that that’s going to be fixed is by creating a system where we democratically control the wealth that we create, our labor and it won’t be fixed until then.
DX: Do you feel that happens musically as well? Major labels take most of the royalties the artist makes, independently you see a little more of that money. How big of a problem is it in the music industry?
Boots Riley: Definitely, under this system. It’s not just major labels it’s independent labels in Capitalism. I’ve been on major labels and indie/underground labels and they’re all Capitalist pigs, right? I mean many times they’re nice, major labels are nice, indie labels are nice but they’re in it to make money and it’s clear. It doesn’t mean their evil or anything like that. It just means that that is the function of business in this society. That’s why entrepreneurship is not the key; you have to have workers below.
DX: You’ve been called anti-American by people, you’ve claimed to be Communist in the past. Isn’t sharing your views though part of being an American whether they support the current social and economic structure?
Boots Riley: I think it has nothing to do with being an American, it has to do with being a human, that’s something that people do, expound on their situational elements and that’s part of the joys of life to be able to look at the world around you and analyze it and try to figure it out and share that with other folks and again to engage with life. To engage with life you have to change the world around you otherwise you’re just going to have to stand while you and everyone else is against the wall and you can’t engage with life by being someplace and just looking at it. You have to get involved and change the world around you in some way.
Remembering Recording The Coup’s Kill My Landlord
DX: We’re coming up on the 20th Anniversary year for Kill My Landlord in 2013. What were your best memories of creating that album and do you believe it’s been that long?
Boots Riley: Let’s see, my fondest memories was back then studios were a real thing, it cost a lot of money – so $800, which is still a lot right now but was a whole lot back then. For $800 you could get the studio for eight hours, from midnight to 8 a.m. So $800 20 years ago was probably a what, couple thousand now?
DX: Sounds about right…
Boots Riley: I have no idea. But you get that for eight hours and then you also had to buy a tape, $150 for the two-inch tape and all your friends are so excited to be going to the studio so back then everyone was like, “Oh the studio, the studio.” You go to the studio, it’s you and 40 of your friends that are not doing anything but they just there in the studio cause it’s the studio. They’re calling people from the studio like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah in case you’re wondering where I’m at, I’m at the studio.” Fast-forward to a few years later, everybody’s bored with the studio, it’s hard to get people to come through and then now you can have a studio on your laptop so. The studio was where everyone was.
DX: That’s interesting. What’s next though for The Coup and Boots Riley specifically?
Boots Riley: Next immediately is this album on October 30 and then the tour, touring Europe, we’re in Europe for a month starting next week and then we’re surfing the U.S. for a month.