Did you ever wonder what happened to the days when hip hop artists such as N.W.A. and Public Enemy penned lyrics that challenged the political authorities and status quo of the time? Do you miss the time when Rage Against the Machine was leading their own musical revolution across the country?
Then the Oakland, Ca. group The Coup would be the band for you, as shown by the onslaught of funk hip-hop sound and poetically political lyrics they served to Detroit at the Magic Stick Friday night.
Formed in 1991, around the same time as N.W.A. Public Enemy and Rage Against the Machine, The Coup never achieved the fame that those bands had. But they have silently put together six albums and two EP’s over the past three decades. Their most recent EP, La Grande Boutique, was released this year.
Led by the rhapsodic and rebellious singer Boots Riley, who was born in Chicago but lived in Detroit until he was six, The Coup has gathered a devoted following that is big enough for them to tour venues around the world. It was only a small turnout at the Magic Stick due to large acts such as Eminem and Rihanna playing in town, but it seemed that the lack of crowd only motivated the band to perform with more in-your-face energy.
“We came for the class war,” Riley said as he surveyed his fans. “We have the idea that the people should democratically control the wealth we make through our label.” Statements such as this show why critics have called him “politically communist” in the past.
The Coup’s sound and message is one-of-a-kind, splicing hard rock and funk with the vocal flow of Riley that draws comparisons to Andre Benjamin from Outkast. Guitarist B’nai Rebelfront’s style seemed to be greatly inspired by the sounds of Parliament Funkadelic and James Brown, while modern-day guitarists such as Tom Morello (without the whammy pedal) were coming through his amp. Bassist J.J. Jungle knew how to keep the fans shuffling their feet and boogying with his heavy hip-hop bass lines, while drummer Hassan Hurd followed stylistic suit. Together, they gave Riley’s political flame a danceable rhythm and hook.
Songs such as “5 million ways to Kill a C.E.O” off their 2001 album “Party Music” reminded fans that, at times, The Coup can be quite controversial. The band gained national attention as the cover art for “Party Music” showed the World Trade Center in flames, while Riley pressed a button on a guitar tuner to explode it. The cover art was made before the 9-11 terrorist attacks, and was set to come out in mid-September but had to be withdrawn due to the visual correlation to the attacks.
The Magic Stick was previously called by Rolling Stone and Metro Times as the “city’s best bet to see a live show.” Hometown favorites such as The White Stripes played there several times, while other bands such as Jack Johnson, Modest Mouse, and Kings of Leon have visited its well-designed confines. It is also connected to the Garden Bowl bowling alley and the historic “Majestic Theatre.”
Riley’s overall message is that that the citizens of this country must “engage,” whether that be through protesting, political involvement, dancing, playing music, or all of the above. “The answer is to join with other people and engage the world. Unfortunately music is not the best way to change the world, but it’s one way.”
We may not see The Coup in the Motor City again for awhile, as they will take their “politically communist” message and hip-hop funk dance music to The Jazz Cafe in London, England on October, 21st.
Eric Kiska graduated from Northern Michigan with a BS in English and writing and minor in art and design. He’s also a former video editor at Detroit Public TV.