The Coup – Sorry To Bother You (Music Review)

Sorry To Bother You cover

The Coup – Sorry To Bother You

Radical political rap group The Coup has had a lot of unlucky timing in their career. The cover picture planned for their 2001 album Party Music seemed innocent enough at the time, but September turned out to be a horrible month to release a mocked-up image of a destroyed World Trade Center. And now, a six-year gap in albums found them missing the chance to jump on the rise and fall of the Occupy Wall Street movement. In fact, Sorry to Bother You hardly references Occupy at all.  (An essay included with the liner notes does go into some detail about it, though.) Even though it would have been nice to have this a year or two earlier, though, Sorry to Bother You is as welcome as the rest of their albums.

Even without overt references to Occupy, the movement may have influenced the approach of this album quite a bit. Instead of being a vehicle for speeches from Boots Riley, it sounds like a community celebration. With background singers shouting along and guests artists frequently taking the lead, this comes across as a community celebration. The block party that kicks off the revolution, perhaps.

This is both good and bad. Riley’s flow and charisma are frequently obscured by all the people running around the studio, so nothing reaches highs like Pick A Bigger Weapon’s “Laugh Love Fuck” or “We Are the Ones”. On the other hand, Riley is an intelligent songwriter, and this album freed him to experiment with consistently good results. Many songs recall the funky early days of rap, while songs like “Strange Arithmetic” sound inspired by his side project with Tom Morello. (Though it would probably be even better with backing from a talent like Morello, the song is much stronger than anything Street Sweeper Social Club wrote together.) And “You Are Not A Riot (An RSVP from David Siqueiros to Andy Warhol)” is an angry piece of spoken-word poetry in a genre of its own.

“You Are Not A Riot” is also a perfect example of The Coup’s powerful message. Tearing apart Andy Warhol as a distraction (“the aesthetic of rebellion”), Riley proclaims that art is indistinguishable from real-world meaning. (“My painting isn’t finished till it kills you/and it makes you feel more powerful than pills do!”) Elsewhere, he takes on the celebrations of excess found in mainstream rap with the sarcastic, kazoo-driven “Your Parents’ Cocaine”. And through it all, he remains incredibly quotable.

You don’t have to agree with Riley’s entire philosophy to find his message powerful and relatable. And Sorry To Bother You is a brilliant example of his range and creativity. I may miss the sound that got put aside to make this album, but it’s still a standout album.

Grade: B+

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