I think that it was their detailed account of how the U.S. supported Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war -- told in the form of a butt-bumping block-party dance anthem -- that convinced me the Coup is the best hip-hop act of the past decade.
When I heard "Pick a Bigger Weapon" (Epitaph), the Oakland duo's latest album, I can say without exaggeration that I rejoiced -- few things are more refreshing these days than a obvious political viewpoint and Prince-golden-era funktitude.
Formed in 1992, the Coup is led by rapper/producer Boots Riley, a declared communist since 14, and Pam the Funkstress, a first-rate DJ and professional gourmet caterer; musicians on "Pick a Bigger Weapon" include veterans of Audioslave, Parliament-Funkadelic, Toni! Tony! Toné! and the Gap Band. Hell yes.
My personal hall of fame aside, the new album's greatest practical triumph is that it represents the Coup's successful, um, coup, against potentially career-murdering mainstream conservatism. "Pick A Bigger Weapon" is the Coup's first album since 2001's "Party Music." The original cover art of the latter, which was completed three months before 9/11, depicted Boots and Pam setting off an explosion in the World Trade Center using a guitar tuner and drumsticks.
The cover was pulled immediately after the attacks, and the album released with new artwork. Needless to say, the criticism was already flowing. Of course, the controversy also earned "Party Music" a lot of attention, deserved mostly for being a flat-out marvelous record.
But even in the current political climate, it's not just the Coup's head-bopping, bat-swinging subversion that makes me want to sing back-up and play laser tag with Boots and Pam. The songs on "Pick a Bigger Weapon" reach much further into the sludge and soda of life than just accusing Bush and Hussein of giving each other head -- which they do in "Head [of State]".
Take "Tiffany Hall," Boots's mourning apology to a friend who died of complications from liposuction: "Your shape was great if I may say so, way before J-Lo/Whoever told you it wasn't had horns not a halo/Or is it just that your behind was up to discuss?/Cause as a man, mine ain't talked about much."
"I Love Boosters!" praises the women who steal from retail chains to outfit neighborhood kids for cheap: "For some of y'all folks, this stuff might phase ya/This ain't the way the society raised ya/But most of it was made by children in Asia/The stores make money off of very low wages/The next time you see two women running out the Gap/With arms full of clothes still strapped to the rack/Once they jump in the car, hit the gas and scat/If you have to say something, just stand and clap."
Even some of the Coup's direct political criticism slithers in as a slow jam called "BabyLet'sHaveaBabyBeforeBushDoSomethin'Crazy," featuring guest vocalist Silk E, and sticking it to the Man comes in an idea we can all embrace called "Ijuswannalayaroundalldayinbedwithyou": "Lose me in your details, break my codes/'Til all the good breakfast spots is closed/Them rich folks gots to knows, it's 'bout controllin' these minutes/They can party cause we work 'til our lower back goes."
All of these lyrics are set to blast-worthy smoothies of Pam the Funkstress's turntables and plenty of live instruments, filling out the hip-hop beats with sweet funk and soul. The songs range from backyard barbecue uprisings like "Laugh/Love/Fuck" to lung-thumping marches like "My Favorite Mutiny," featuring Talib Kweli and the Roots' Black Thought.
Some of the tracks remind me of the reason I so often find my satellite radio tuned to the "old skool" channel -- not to visit the halcyon days of the Casio keyboard, but for the jazz-rap of groups like De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest (not that Casio stuff isn't tasty in its own way). The Coup's music is different, but pays similar respect to hip-hop's family tree.
Maybe it's the fact that it's election season, or that Boots Riley seems like the kind of communist you'd want your kids to meet, but I haven't been this energized about a band in a long time. The Coup toured this summer in support of "Pick a Better Weapon," and the news is they'll be out again from Nov. 24 through New Year's Eve -- I know I'll be at B.B. King's here in New York on Dec. 19, even though Pam the Funkstress is sitting this trip out, because I'm definitely due for a good booty-shaking rally against the oppressors.