For SF WEEKLY: The Coup‘s 1998 release, Steal This Album, was once called the best hip-hop record of that decade, and yet frontman Boots Riley never really identified with rap music from that era. Riley has always had his hand in a range of different projects: fronting Street Sweeper Social Club with Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello, collaborating with New Orleans funk group Galactic, and ongoing community activism and organizing. And from its beginnings in 1991, the Oakland-based group has always had funk, punk, and soul embedded in its DNA.
“We are like The Clash mixed with Sly and Family Stone,” Boots Riley said in a recent phone interview. Riley and the full Coup live band – drums, bass, guitar, keyboards, backing vocals, percussion – will perform July 17 at the New Parish in Oakland with opening group Bells Atlas.
“We will be making people funk and sweat,” Riley said. “We’ve developed into a live machine. You’re not sitting there contemplating the lyrics. It’s a feeling. The goal with a show is to push forward the passion in a visual and sonic way. It all comes out in a trance-like way, fast and pulsating. Then people can go home and think about the lyrics later.”
Riley has always been known for his specific lyrical blend: harsh political commentary and wit and sarcasm are woven together over what is essentially heavy party music. The New Parish show is timed with the release of a new book of lyrics and stories from Riley called Tell Homeland Security We Are the Bomb, published by Haymarket Books last month with a foreword by Adam Mansbach, award-winning author of the New York Times‘ bestseller Go The Fuck To Sleep, Angry Black White Boy, and other works.
“The book is pretty much everything I’ve written that I want anyone to know about,” Riley said. “It has stories I’m telling about why I wrote songs and things I was thinking about when I wrote them.”
Riley specifically asked for Bells Atlas to open, after hearing Berkeley’s KALX 90.7 play the group’s music and interview members on the air. The Oakland group has a distinct, modern, new-Soul vibe, driven by electronic beats and the vocal work of Sandra Lawson-Ndu.
“Rarely, someone comes around that is influenced by so many things but is looking for a new way to do something,” Riley said. “You can’t really put any particular category on it. Bells Atlas is like that. It is possible to be experimental and creative in a way that draws you in and makes you excited about what they are doing and about life.”
The Coup and Bells Atlas play the New Parish in Oakland July 17.