the coup’s “violet” is an overlooked hip-hop masterpiece. don’t miss them at ap fest 2013. #soundcheck

July 19, 2013

I was 20 the first time I heard The Coup. The biggest album in the world was called Get Rich or Die Tryin and I didn’t understand why. As a socialist, it expressed a set of values contrary to everything I believed in. If the problem was capitalism, how could the answer be more capitalism? The Bush years were a hard time to question the dogma of American capitalism and American exceptionalism. Fox News had completely dominated the conversation, and all of a sudden you were either With Us or Against Us. But a friend turned me on to this group out of Oakland and it changed everything. Here was Boots Riley; not just shouting slogans like my then-favorite-band Anti-Flag (whose The Terror State I played that fall until every track skipped), but breaking down the intersection between capitalism, class, race, the prison-industrial complex, and the militarization of the police in a way that was accessible, clearly thought out, and oh yeah, the beat was fucking dope.

By Nathan Leigh, AFROPUNK Contributor

From the first line of their first record “Presto / Read the Communist Manifesto / Guerrillas in the midst / a Guevara named Ernesto” I was hooked. This was a band with Something To Say. Pick A Bigger Weapon came out shortly thereafter and contained one of my favorite lines “Death to the pigs is my basic statement / I spit street stories til I taste the pavement” Because, well, if you listen to enough of The Coup, “death to the pigs” pretty much is Boots’ basic statement. (which, having had a few life-threatening run-ins with the cops, is a pretty damn good basic statement…)

But where most groups tend to have about 5 or 6 good years in them before their music becomes a rehash of past glories, The Coup were just getting started. 2012 hit with the wall-to-wall brilliant Sorry To Bother You. Inspired by Boots’ involvement with the Occupy movement, the album is triumphant, even optimistic at times. It’s the first time since E-roc left the group in 1997 that it doesn’t feel like “Boots and some other people,” but a true collective. And it contains not just the best song of The Coup’s career (to date), but what I contend (without hyperbole) may be one of the best songs in music history. Period.

“Violet” is perfect. Every note. Every word. The Coup trade their retro grooves for a string quartet (visions of The Mighty Boosh taking retro to its logical conclusion). Boots trades his rally cry for revolution for a simple story from the point of view of a prostitute finding hope for just an instant. It’s heartbreaking and beautiful in a way that his music almost never is. It’s human, real, and immediate. The strings have the subtle intensity of Mozart’s famous Serenade for 13 Winds in B-Flat. And there’s a french horn solo. In a damn Coup song. Boots often explains why cycles of poverty and systemic oppression strip people of their humanity. In “Violet” he shows it.

The Coup will be playing Afropunk Fest 2013. You can be damn sure I’ll be there shouting every word. Will you?