Though he's a fiery and uncompromising political rapper, Coup frontman Boots Riley's modus operandi includes more than just polemics.
That's not to say that Pick a Bigger Weapon is missing any governmental slams; while Kanye captured the media's attention with his post-Katrina criticism of the President, Boots sets up metaphorical suggestions that put Dubya and Saddam Hussein into bed on the aptly named "Head (Of State)." The Bay Area revolutionary can also wax poetic about everyday problems better than most of his so-called conscious contemporaries, analyzing with detail and wit how shit in a capitalist society always runs downhill. Factor in his formidable storytelling ability, best demonstrated on the already-classic track "Me and Jesus the Pimp in a '79 Granada Last Night," and it's clear that Riley isn't just a skilled sloganeer; he's an all-around MC who happens to be passionate about revolution.
Pick a Bigger Weapon, Boots' and his partner Pam the Funkstress' fifth album in their 14-year career, finds The Coup moving towards an all-encompassing sound, attempting to create a set of classic, intersecting grooves. Their first album since 2001's Party Music (and first for punk stalwart Epitaph), Weapon was inspired by politics, but not in the way you'd expect. In 2003, The Coup went on the Bush-bashing "Tell Us the Truth" tour with artists like punk-folk icon Billy Bragg and Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello; the diverse lineup proved to be a big sonic influence. Morello, guitarist Dwayne Wiggins, and others lend their talents to the more eclectic Pick a Bigger Weapon, which builds on the Parliament/Funkadelic-inspired beats that formed the backbone of Party Music.
The Coup's newly expanded sound-minus a few songs with a slightly oddball tone-works for the most part; they add many interesting elements to the mix instead of revamping old beats. The solid opener, "Bullets and Love," filled with swirling synths and showy guitar riffs, has an Outkast flavor to it, while "MindFuck" flirts with Carlos Santana-style solos. The handclaps and harmonica strains floating over Boots' silky paean to spending all morning banging the headboards ("I Just Wanna Lay Around All Day in Bed With You") gradually builds to a string-laden conclusion. But as surprising as Riley's roguish R&B turn is, the track aimed squarely (though with tongue in cheek) at blue-staters making babies is the soulful "BabyLet'sHaveABabyBeforeBushDoesSomethingCrazy," a collaboration with rapper Silk E. It's an over-the-top dose of humor with a cameo by Dead Kennedys singer Jello Biafra.
Boots maintains his usual lyrical edge, though he surprisingly spends little time referencing recent events like Iraq and Katrina. "We Are the Ones," which he delivers in a foppish tone, could be interpreted as a realistic look at the crack era that's been glamorized by many recent rappers. But most of the other tracks-like the anti-Uncle Tom "Ass-Breath Killers" and "MindFuck," a dark look at being dependent and following orders-find him again digging into the politics of everyday. "I'm here to laugh, love, fuck, and drink liquor/And help the damn revolution come quicker," he raps on "Laugh/Love/Fuck." It‘s not his edgiest statement, nor is the album the group's best work, but Weapon still sounds a powerful rallying cry.