The Coup's Boots Riley on His Next Record, Hip-Hop for White Kids, and Loving Battlestar Galactica
The Coup's Boots Riley. Photo by John Duah.
It's been almost a decade since 9/11 -- which means (among other things) that it's been 10 years since Boots Riley was seemingly everywhere, coolly responding to outrage over some extremely ill-timed album art depicting explosions at World Trade Center. It's also been five years since the last album from the Coup, 2006's critically acclaimed Pick a Bigger Weapon.
But rest assured, the Oakland native has been busy. Aside from releasing and touring an EP and a full-length studio album with Tom Morello as the rap-rock outfit Street Sweeper Social Club, booking speaking engagements on racism, capitalism, and grassroots organizing, and guesting on the upcoming Star Fucking Hipsters album, Riley recently found time to write a feature-length screenplay before heading into the studio to record tracks for a new Coup album, due out at the beginning of next year.
Ahead of the Coup's Aug. 19 show at the Independent, we grabbed a drink with Riley to find out more about what to expect.
So the new Coup album is called Sorry To Bother You, and it's going to serve as the soundtrack to a movie you wrote with the same name. What else can you tell us about the film?
Sorry To Bother You, the movie, is a dark comedy with some magical realism in it. I play the main character, and so far we have Patton Oswalt and David Cross and a few other folks that have said they'll be in it. It's inspired by my time working as a telemarketer -- what I learned doing that, which is that, to be good at it you have to scare people a little. You learn how to sort of use your powers of persuasion for evil.
Where were you a telemarketer?
It was this place that doesn't exist anymore, in Berkeley, a nonprofit. A bunch of people used to work there. Blackalicious worked there. It was kind of known that they would hire anyone, so it was a pretty safe bet when you needed a job. In the movie, though, it's not as confusing as it being a nonprofit organization, it's just fundraising for a purely capitalist organization.
Is making a movie something you've been mulling over for a while? You were in film school for a while when you were younger, right?
Yeah, I quit school when I first got a recording deal. For one, making music is cheaper than making movies. But I grew up being addicted to television ... so I think TV was actually my first passion. Then when I was about 12, I got wind of Prince, so that changed that.
What TV shows were you into when you were younger?
Knight Rider. The original Battlestar Galactica. Saturday Night Live.
At what point did you decide to focus on music as a real career?
It's only been the past five years that I've admitted to myself that I'm an artist. Before that it was like, "Oh, somehow I figured out how to make people think that I can do this." On the other hand, I believe that everybody is an artist, I believe that everybody has the ability to create, we're just not all encouraged to. I know I've been encouraged to develop those skills, but for a long time I thought it [was] just something I was doing until ... I figured out what else I was gonna do.
At the time [of the Coup's first record deal] I thought of myself as a super-revolutionary. I was more disciplined -- from my 19th birthday to a bit after my 29th birthday, I didn't drink or smoke anything, and I think I had much more of a plan than I do now. The whole idea was, they want me to make an album and put stuff out there, so I'll leave the film stuff alone and make two platinum albums and use that money to make community centers and build a movement and live happily ever after. And then somewhere along the way it became something I had to do for income. And if you have to do it to survive, and you can make it something you can feel happy about, that fits you, that's how you end up really developing.
What else can you tell us about the album? You've been doing tons of other stuff, but it's the first Coup album in a while.
Well, it's not done, but so far I've been doing the best work I think I've ever done. I think it's as emotional as it is aggressive, and radical ... whatever that word means. As far as guests, so far we've got Vernon Reid, Anti-Flag, Das Racist, and we're about to have Taj Mahal and Lupe Fiasco. I've been working with my friend [producer/engineer] Damien Gallegos at his studio, which is really nice. On the actual album there will 20-something tracks, but then also a four-song free download that will all be extra songs.