Live: The Coup Does Leftist Political Rap Right

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I can promise this: You dealing with a Communist

The Coup + T-Kash + Iselyfe
Southpaw
June 9, 2006

Does the exact same group of people come to every single show at Southpaw? At Friday night's Coup show, the only only visible evidence that this was a rap crowd came from the huge number of people wearing those green army caps like Jadakiss had in the "New York" video. Otherwise, the audience was straight-up Park Slope grup, just like the audience I've seen at every other Southpaw show. Between acts, the piped-in music got weird reactions; it was the sort of crowd that goes apeshit for Dead Prez's "Hip Hop" but doesn't seem to recognize "New York State of Mind." Everyone was drunk and awkward and self-satisfied, and nobody was even a little bit afraid to dance. And so a show from an OG West Coast leftist political-rap group morphed into something truly horrific to behold: a grup dance party. Seriously, I've seen better dancing at motherfucking Belle and Sebastian shows. Southpaw needs to hire John Lithgow's character from Footloose as a night manager or something; it's ugly.

If Boots Riley has managed to cultivate an all-grup fanbase, good for him, but it certainly made for a bizarre and dissonant scene. For about a decade and a half, Riley has been giving the world a pretty great example of how to incorporate politics into rap without being a dick about it. With the Coup, he rails against all the usual evils (institutional racism, corporate greed, wage slavery) but weaves all that anger into lush and gooey West Coast strut-funk, sometimes getting simplistic but usually keeping everything in focus by bringing it into the everyday: his job is bad because it keeps him from having sex, that sort of thing. Pick a Bigger Weapon, the Coup's new album, is one of my favorites of the year thus far; for all its rage, it's still warm and easy and funny and catchy and a whole lot more engaging than any other explicitly political work I've heard in a good long time. Onstage, Riley certainly doesn't ignore politics; he was even willing to stop the show long enough to humor some front-row suckup who asked him what he thought of the war on terror. Still, he's more leisure-suit huckster onstage than righteous preacher; he works his smirk and his butterfly collar like a homeless man's Morris Day. Unfortunately, he's touring with a live band these days instead of DJ Pam the Funkstress, the only other original member left in the group. Pick a Bigger Weapon has a ton of live instrumentation: rippling percussion and woozy guitars and burbling bass. But in the hands of his grimly competent guitar-bass-drums backing band, this stuff loses a lot of its sticky smack. His guitarist is a total Guitar Center herb, meticulously reconstructing all the guitar solos on the album but not really adding anything beyond a tinny wheedle and sometimes crossing the line between vamping and noodling. Riley mostly stuck to stuff from the last couple of albums, and the band proved to be a lot more capable on the slow, pretty stuff ("Wear Clean Drawers" just devastated) than on the hard, aggressive songs, which just came out sounding forced and tinny despite Riley's best efforts. Riley is a pretty good bandleader and an infectiously charismatic performer, but one day I'd like to see him do an actual rap show. Some of the night's best moments came from Silk-E, the girl who sings on about half the new album's tracks; she mugged frantically throughout the show and just murdered that song about having a baby before Bush do something crazy.

Download: "My Favorite Mutiny"
Download: "We Are The Ones"
Voice review: Elizabeth Mendez Berry on the Coup's Pick a Bigger Weapon
Voice review: Frank Kogan on the Coup's Party Music

The night's opening acts perfectly demonstrated what makes the Coup great. T-Kash and Iselyfe are both Oakland rappers who share Riley's M.O.: political fury over greasy funk. But T-Kash and Iselyfe are both terrible, both content to let their good intentions carry them off to hell; neither one had any of Riley's verve or ease or style. T-Kash is a big, clumsy dude with some sort of association with Paris, and he's got a heavy tendency toward frantically off-the-beat, painfully obvious stuff about how George Bush is Lex Luthor (seriously); his fake reggae song was just painful. Iselyfe claims that he doesn't give a motherfuck if Ronald Reagan just died. I wonder if he gives a motherfuck that it's been two years now and he should maybe think about updating his lyrics. Also: "I'm in the cut like Neosporin / Grab the mic, get on the stage, and start performing." Back to the lab, Iselyfe!


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