The Coup: Pick a Bigger Weapon

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The Coup
Pick a Bigger Weapon
[Epitaph, 2006]
Rating: 7 (out of 10)

During The Coup’s explosive full band performance at the Operation: Cease Fire rally at the Washington Monument last September, a awkward moment of nonverbal discord passed between Ray “Boots” Riley and his resident hype man. Halfway through their set, the hype man grabbed a “Bush Must Go!” picket sign from the front row and hoisted it in the air. Boots’ rock-solid demeanor, for a brief moment, turned into one of marked disappointment. It appeared that Boots, like many other patriotic dissenters, had grown tired with anti-Bush rhetoric as it has been driven into the ground since the man waltzed into office. When The Coup made waves with their last album Party Music in 2001, 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Patriot Act, the Christian Taliban, the actual Taliban, Duct Tape, domestic spying, etc. were all looming under or out of our nation-state’s subconscious. Now, as Boots, DJ Pam the Funktress, and a very solid musical ensemble bring forth Pick a Bigger Weapon, they make it clear that preaching to the docile masses isn’t squarely their goal, and it never has been. Everything that could be said about Bush and Cheney has, for the most part, already been said, and none of it frames the typical album that most are going to run out and buy, no matter where they stand politically.

With all that in mind, The Coup have subverted the cycle of weak lefty posturing and once again successfully wound their fiery progressive message into a cavalcade of Prince-laced funk, hearty soul, and of course, blazing hip-hop that is thought-provoking, incendiary, and what is perhaps the most important to their effectiveness, fun. While the scathing Marxist and iconoclastic politics are as prevalent as ever here, their musical ambition is just as remarkable. On “My Favorite Mutiny,” Black Thought and Talib Kweli show up and contribute powerful rhymes on top of a bouncy rhythm that is on par with the best of both Northern Soul and Kanye West’s wall of heavily sampled sound. The album’s biggest weakness, though, comes from Boots Riley’s production on certain tracks like “Laugh/Love/Fuck” where the music seems to be mixed down to the drum programming, giving the music an over-processed feel. None of the songs here use beats as bass-heavy and infectious as Party Music highlights like “5 Million Ways to Kill a CEO” and “Ride the Fence,” though a number come close, just with less aggressive arrangements.

Lyrically, Boots leaves little open to interpretation. The anthemic chorus to “Head (of State)” is a fine example: ‘Bush and Hussein together in bed, givin’ H-E-A-D head/ y’all motherfuckers heard what we said/ billions made and millions dead.’ Boots takes every chance on the microphone, and as in most effective political music, the results go right for the throat. He plants ideas in the listeners’ conscience that even a subscription to The Nation couldn’t. “We are the Ones” finds Boots rapping in a snooty accent about how, at even the highest levels of society, more people are subverting the law than we expect. Following a sketch featuring, appropriately enough, Jello Biafra, “I Love Boosters!” declares Boots’ heartfelt respect for women who shoplift and resell designer products in the projects for pennies. He even takes time to explain what ‘boosters’ are to those of us who didn’t grow up in such dire conditions. That is, to say, a majority of the Coup’s fan base, which they have embraced on “Pick a Bigger Weapon” more than on any album previous.

During my sophomore year of college, “Party Music” taught me, a fairly well off white kid from Connecticut, a number of valuable lessons. More from The Coup than any other artist, I realized that you should never apologize for your beliefs, and that you really can get a radical message out while making people bob their head, shake their ass, and in a number of cases laugh that ass off (e.g. “Ass-Breath Killers,” a funky, empowering manifesto against everything sycophantic). Boots and his posse are focused on affecting social change from a multi-race, multi-class point of view and sense of humor. Like most of The Coup’s five albums, Pick a Bigger Weapon is not an end-to-end masterpiece, though it contains plenty of unforgettable songs and hints that fifteen years, three corrupt administrations, several US military atrocities, and innumerable P. Diddy/50 Cent/Nelly/etc. albums down the line, The Coup only becoming more focused and more of a force to be reckoned with. Boots and Pam could care less about whether music has the capability to change things anymore. Whatever they’re aiming for, they’re hitting a target on some level.

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