The Coup is an Oakland based group that came on the national scene in the early nineties. Upon its conception, The Coup consisted of three: chief emcee, Boots Riley, E Roc and the group’s deejay, Pam The Funkstress (nowadays, they’re pretty much a full ensemble band). Unlike the majority of west coast hip-hop groups in the early nineties, who were on some gangster shit, The Coup had a black militant stance and spewed consciousness in their songs. They signed to the now defunct Wild Pitch label and released their debut album Kill My Landlord, which was a clever way of calling out their white oppressors, and is a clever enough title to earn a TimeIsIllmatic nomination for best album title of 1993.
The liner notes for Kill My Landlord credit the production and arrangement to Boots, but as Boots adds in the “Producer’s notes”: “There’s hella shit on this album that’s naked-live, original basslines, hard to find drum samples, other live instrumentation, etc.”. Kill My Landlord didn’t move a ton of units, but it did receive favorable reviews.
The roster has changed through the years (and the labels), but The Coup is still making music today, with Boots as the face and voice (and afro) of the band. And even though they’ve tweaked their musical stylings over the years, they’re one of the few groups that have never compromised the message in their music, and that is commendable.
Dig It! – Kill My Landlord starts with a mid-tempo funk groove that has Boots and E-Roc setting the foundation on what political and conscious messages you can expect to hear throughout the album. Nice start to the evening’s proceedings.
Not Yet Free – This was the first single released from Kill My Landlord. Over a laid back groove Boots and E Roc give several reasons why the black man in America isn’t truly liberated, but only experiencing “casual freedom”. I love Boots’ final bars of the song: “my teacher told me that I didn’t know what right was, but she was wrong because I knew what a right was, and a left and an uppercut too…I had a hunch, a sucker punch is what my people got, that why I’m constantly red, black and blue”. Deep.
Fuck A Perm – Short interlude that Boots shows his black pride, stressing that “beauty is a natural fact”, so there is no need for brothers and sisters to put chemicals in their hair. Or as the title simple states, “fuck a perm”.
The Coup – Over a mid-tempo groove (with some dope live instrumentation) Boots gives a long drawn out explanation on the meaning of his group’s name, and during the process drops a lot of meat for the listener to chew on. It was kind of interesting to hear Boots call out Donald Trump twenty plus years before anyone thought he would be running for POTUS. Time is truly illmatic.
I Know You – Boots and E Roc discuss the tumultuous relationship between the black community and the police. The mid-tempo backdrop will touch your soul as it takes you on an emotional roller coaster (I love the organ on the hook). I love this song, and it couldn’t be more relevant based on the current climate of things in America.
I Ain’t The Nigga – Boots and company lighten the mood (well, kind of) with this one, as they make an argument on why it’s not cool for black folks to call them themselves the N- word. The instrumental uses a Sesame Street vocal sample, and the same Cymande loop Masta Ace used on “Me and The Biz” for the backdrop. This was dope.
Last Blunt – While most rappers endorse marijuana, Boots provides an interesting perspective and speaks to why we should not partake in the herbal essence. By the way, the female vocalist singing the hook almost single handily brings this song down in a fiery wreck. Yes, she’s that bad.
Funk – Boots relays a story about being mistaken for a crackhead, and the drama, or funk, that it brings him. He also asks the great question: Why is it so easy for the black man to bring the funk on their own instead of their white oppressors? Boots sounds good on the mic, but the true star of this one is the incredibly funky and infectious bass line.
Liberation Of Lonzo Williams – Over a ridiculously slow-paced instrumental, Boots and E Roc tell the story of their boy’s journey from drug dealer to freedom fighter. I couldn’t really get into this one.
Pam’s Song – The Coup’s deejay Pam the Funkstress, gets to showcase her skills on the ones and twos over a pretty dope backdrop, and she actually does a good job.
Fo Da Money – E Roc uses his solo joint (with an intro and outro speech provided by Boots) to share the perspective of three different black men and the circumstances that made them turn to a life of crime to make ends meet. Props to E Roc on the intent, but it’s painful to listen to him carry a song on his own. The dragging pace of the instrumental doesn’t make matters any better.
Foul Play – The instrumental is cool, and Boots sounds sharp as usual, but something about this song just doesn’t grab me. Maybe it’s the annoying loop on the hook that has a female voice repeatedly saying “It’s funky, it’s funky, it’s funky, it’s a funky situation”.
Kill My Landlord – For the final song of the evening (which also happens to be the title song), The Coup invite Schwinn and T-Mor from Elements of Change and Defrost, to join them in listing reasons on why they want to kill their (literal and figurative) landlords. I couldn’t really feel this one either.
Kill My Landlord is a solid rookie effort from the Oakland collective. Boots provides meaty verses over a cohesive dosage of west coast funk that will keep the listener bobbing his or her head while chewing on the thought-provoking dishes he serves up. They could have left three or four songs on the cutting room floor (as well as E Roc), but Kill My Landlorddefinitely hits more often than it misses.