As frontman for Oakland’s the Coup since it was founded in 1991, Raymond “Boots” Riley has achieved cult status as much for his political activism as for his scathingly witty commentary, heard on such underground hip-hop classics as Kill My Landlord and Steal This Album. Now a bit longer in the tooth, he can still flamboast as hard as any Oaktown hyphy kid; what’s changed is the breadth of his vision, musically and lyrically.
From Sly Stone to Parliament-Funkadelic, hardcore funk vibrates near the center of Riley’s ethos, but on this fall’s Sorry to Bother You, punk and art rock creep into the mix with the help of Vernon Reid, Joe Henry, Jolie Holland and others. Riley taps a poetic vein that’s equal parts Leonard Cohen and Iceberg Slim (from “My Murder, My Love”: “I’ve vomited slang in porcelain and then claimed it was champagne”), while cramming his rapid-fire rhymes into very tight spaces (“Hypnotic, the noose is slip-knotted in a fourth-quarter audit and pumped through the carotid,” from “The Gods of Science”). It makes for some compelling agitprop party-music theater.
The Coup itself has expanded into a full-on musicians’ collective, packed with hypertalented Bay Area locals; onstage, they might flip from Ohio Players to obscure Thin Lizzy riffs with an astounding seamlessness. Free-form rock duo Japanther, which opened the Coup’s Brooklyn Bowl date last year and drains a guest shot on Sorry to Bother You, adds a level of octane that’s sure to rev Riley’s engine into the red.—Bill Murphy
Follow Bill Murphy on Twitter: @RoninScribe