Street Sweeper Social Club: Rock ('N Roll) The Mic
Posted on 06/18/2009
Who’s that one with the saloon style sideburns, always rapping about COINTELPRO and the Communist Manifesto anyway? That’s a typical question only from those who have been in neglectful hibernation for the whole 21st century. One, it’s Boots Riley of The Coup, duh, and two, it’s not ‘93 when The Coup are name dropping political ideas just for the mere shock value. Boots, the lyrical iconoclast himself will be the first tell you that The Coup’s music has evolved from Hip-Hop to Funk, and now Rock, and with it, Boots has matured from a line-for-line rhyme propagandist to a ripe free-form musician dropping revolutionary party jams. So don’t be alarmed that Boots’ new album, Street Sweeper Social Club, brought into fruition with the help of Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello is filled with spicy riffs and rock star distortion. Just think of it as Rock feedback with a revolutionary kick back.
OKP: I was on YouTube just taking a trip down memory lane. First I watched “Dig It” from ’93 and “Ride Tha Fence,” then I listened to the new album. I remember the message in the lyrics was really overtly political back in the day, but this time Tom Morello describes it as “revolutionary party jams.” Do you agree?
Boots: I don’t know. I think we’re criticized for the fact that we’re not revolutionary, but ghetto. I don’t know if you heard Pick a Bigger Weapon. I think this album is a little different from Genocide and Juice. In that album, my rhymes were probably fresh off the pamphlet. My lyrics got way better on Genocide & Juice and got even way better on Steal This Album; every album the lyrics get better. You realize what are you talking about. You can say over and over we need to destroy capitalism and create a socialist state where the people control the world they create, but can anybody around feel it?
If you listen to Genocide and Juice, Steal This Album, Party Music, and Pick a Bigger Weapon, I’m talking about the places where people intersect with the system and where they, on a day-to-day, basis are in the struggle with the system. Trying to put food on the table. Trying to pay rent. Going through all sorts of hustles. Taking that into mind, I would say Street Sweeper Social Club is much more overtly revolutionary than say Pick a Bigger Weapon or Party Music. Our first single, “100 Little Curses,” is basically talking about the small percent that owns everything. It’s funny that the whole concept is one day we’re gonna make a revolution, until then I hope you’re life sucks and then, “somewhere in the world it’s midnight and the gorillas just shot two pigs.”
OKP: Rhyme wise you did get better. I noticed your lyrics in general got more concise. Could you elaborate on that?
Boots: There are a few things. At first I was trying to not only lyrically impress other rappers, but also trying to name check certain ideas at the same time. “Presto, read the Communist Manifesto, Guerillas in the Mist, a Guevara named Ernesto.” It’s interesting and it shows that I know this stuff. So what? Then the next style I developed was storytelling, which was just describing things in a way that you feel like you’re there. On Genocide and Juice, I was describing things in detail on songs like “Hip to the Scheme” where I was showing, now with lyrical skill, what vibe I wanted people to feel. I was incorporating regular humor that we use in everyday conversation, using my personality and creativity. I evolved from a lyricist to a songwriter who can make reference not only to a song on a theme, but a whole album on a theme.
I think that a lot of rappers don’t get that. You can be a lyricist and come up with lines that make people go, “Oooh!” It’s cool because I’ve been there. I am that person too, but I wanna create pieces that speak to something bigger. Sometimes I may succeed at that, sometimes I may fail. That’s my goal.
OKP: So why Rock ‘N Roll?
Boots: I guess it’s been a slow transition. One thing that you can say is The Coup has always been connected to the Funk and there’s a thin line between Rock ‘N Roll and Funk. Parliament is supposed to be the R & B and Funkadelic is supposed to be the Rock. The Coup, especially on the last album, Pick a Bigger Weapon, have songs on there that are definitely rock songs with me rapping over them. On Genocide and Juice, we had a song called “Gunsmoke.” So Street Sweeper Social Club is still traveling along that line of doing very funky, Led Zeppelin type stuff, which is basically the hard Blues. So it’s something that starts into a lot of music. I’ve been knowing Tom for years now and it kind of came together. It all developed into that style.
It also bore something very different from The Coup. With The Coup, I’m totally the producer. I’m controlling every aspect of that and with this, it was a little funny because I wasn’t the producer. It was a realm I didn’t know much about. If it was hip-hop, I would probably have a lot to say about the music. This is something that was totally not my ballpark, musically. I knew Tom knew more about making this than I did. I could just relax and do the lyrics and that’s brand new to me.
OKP: Cool. I feel you. I’m just playing devil’s advocate right here. What if people say MCs who dabble in Rock are just following the new trend? What would you say to that?
Boots: I would say where have they been for the last 25 years? Have they not heard of a song called The King of Rock. Have they heard of Public Enemy? Have they heard of a song called, “Bitch Betta Have My Money”? It’s always been there.
OKP: I hear that. I’m going pick your brain politically, now. First of all, how did you come to obtain this breadth of political knowledge? Were you just a really good history student or did you attend a lot of rallies?
Boots: When I was 14, a group of organizers showed up in front of my door with a van full of girls and said, “We are all going to the beach, but first we’re gonna go to this march ” I got in the van and here I am today.
OKP: Oh shit… well, now that Obama’s president, does that kill the socialist movement? Are people quelled?
Boots: Let me say, Obama’s in office but we still got people unemployed. We got a lot of people working 40 hour a week jobs, who have to live on their cousin’s couch because it don’t pay enough. We got the same wars going on, one of them we’re about to send more troops to. We’re encroaching into Pakistan. The people who robbed mortgages, these financiers, are making out with all of the bailout money; people that we owe the national debt to, we’re giving them money and for the first time ever, and saying you don’t have to reduce the national debt. So I don’t think it kills the idea that the people need control of the wealth that they create. I think what it does do is make a lot of people say let’s wait and see what he does.
The thing is, anyone who listened to The Coup’s music can see that it was never about changing who’s president because the president is an office or a function of the system. The president doesn’t work for himself. The president works for the ruling class.
And so, a great step or symbol of the fact that most of the people in the world want a big change is the reality that change is not gonna come from above. It’s gonna come from the people forcing that change to happen – just like everything that we’ve fought for, whether it be the Civil Rights legislation or ending the Vietnam war or Affirmative Action or welfare or Social Security, Medicare, or the end of the work day. None of those things came because we elected the right person into office. They came because people were organized and made it so that the ruling class had the choice of making less money or making no money. It happened because it was an organized movement. It just didn’t happen like that. The New Deal happened because of the revolution. It was geared to happen because of the organizers. Affirmative Action happened because they didn’t want that movement to be radicalized, as did the Civil Rights movement. So the big change that we want to happen right now is gonna have to happen alternatively.
- Sidik Fofana