Weapons hardly come much bigger than the one Boots wields. After all it was Ice-T who reminded us back in 1989 that the best “Lethal Weapon” was the one in your mind. Boots has been wielding that weapon like Triple H wields a sledgehammer, bashing people in the face repeatedly until they take the hint. Hip-Hop was far from ready for his politics on The Coup’s 1993 album “Kill My Landlord.” The East coast righteousness of Public Enemy met the West coast funk of Too $hort, and far from being mismatched the combination was an Oakland mindfuck that intimidated the very audience who should have embraced it. Unfortunately for The Coup being progressive was not in style, G-Funk was.
Boots has found his group to be the victims of bad timing ever since, including the infamous leaked cover photo of “Party Music,” which seemed in the wake of September 11th to be glorifying terrorism instead of expressing their intended dissatisfaction with corporate America. The album and cover were both planned well ahead of the attacks, but now The Coup were not only the victims of bad timing but universally indiscriminate hatred. People living in the U.S. were scared by terrorism and looking for anything they could focus on to lash out at, and The Coup was branded traitors and unpatriotic. The irony is that few people could be more patriotic than Boots, as he has continually espoused a grassroots “do it yourself” ethic for improving the welfare of individuals and communities, with less reliance on big government and the desire to have less interference FROM said same in our daily lives. He may choose controversial ways to express his patriotism, but in the end all great patriots are controversial; witness the obit penned for Thomas Paine when he died in 1809: “He had lived long, did some good and much harm.” It wasn’t until year’s later Paine received his true due as both a revolutionary leader but a man who famously warned that all government was – at best – a necessary evil. What could be more patriotic than overthrowing an oppressive tyrannical regime? Whether political or corporate, “Pick a Bigger Weapon” and get your fight on. That’s exactly what Boots advocates in “My Favorite Mutiny”:
“Death to the pigs is my basic statement
I spit street stories ’til I taste the pavement
Tryin’ to stay out the pen while we face enslavement
Had a foolproof hustle ’til they traced the payments
I was grippin’ my palm around some shitty rum
Tryin’ to find psalm number 151
To forget what I’m owed, as I clutch the commode
Alright, put down the bottle and come get the guns
I get off the chain like Kunta Kinte with a MAC-10
They want us gone like a dollar in a crack den
Said at least a track then, seeds & stems
Mind cloudy through the wheeze and phlegm
I’m get my brain off of that and the Jesus hymns
If we waiting for the time to fight, these is thems
Tellin’ us to relax while they ease it in, we gettin greased again
The truth I write is so cold, it’d freeze my pen
I’m Boots Riley it’s a pleasure to meet you
Never let they punk ass ever defeat you”
Revolutions may not be televised, but they do need a good musical soundtrack. Boots is more than just a fiery orator, he’s a powerful composer who adds the funk to the mix to make his words stick. While at times his style has been hit or miss, “Pick a Bigger Weapon” finds him at his most musically consistant and enjoyable. “We Are the Ones” is an uptempo finger snapping hip-hop boom bap where Riley affects a faux snooty accent and mocks the life of getting ahead where “we like free speech but we love free cable.” The more subtle “Laugh/Love/Fuck” sounds and reads like a DJ Quik production until the latter half of the chorus is uttered: “laugh, love, fuck and drink liquor/and make the damn revolution come quicker.” “Head (of State)” mocks the relationship between the Bush administration and the oil industry in the Middle East, something true patriots ought to take note of. If that’s too heady for you groove to the smooth funk revolution of “ShowYoAss,” laugh along to the bubbling over-the-top “Ass-Breath Killers,” or roll dipping down the street to “I Love Boosters,” where you can get anything from someone “who jacks from retail/and sells it in the hood for dirt cheap resale.” Before you criticize Boots for advocating crime, keep in mind it’s tongue-in-cheek; not to mention Boots rightly points out the companies who make the goods in third world countries pay slave labor wages, and then the retailers here in turn pay minimum wage to the people selling it.
That’s the general idea of “Pick a Bigger Weapon” – it’s more than just music, it’s food for thought. Any album that has a song titled “BabyLet’sHaveaBabyBeforeBushDoSomethin’Crazy” ought to put more than just your ass in motion. If all Boots and his cohort Pam the Funkstress on the turntables could do was spout rhethoric, “Pick a Bigger Weapon” would be a very educational album that wasn’t very entertaining. Thankfully they’ve got the formula down to a science after 13 years in the hip-hop game, and although you may be hard-pressed to find a radio friendly single it’s certainly not due to the production – it’s just that no program directors will want the FCC to come calling because The Coup just slandered George Dubya and get their station licenses revoked. That’s the worst form of tyranny of all – when good people won’t speak up because they’re afraid the government will take away their rights if they do. In this land of the free and home of the brave, Boots may be the bravest among us all – he won’t shy away from the issues that need to be addressed. Perhaps on “Captain Sterling’s Little Problem” he says it best: “I’m fin’ to join the army, but one you don’t like.” King George didn’t like our armies much either, but then no tyrant ever likes being called one to his face. Funny how kings are always named George isn’t it?