The Coup – Pick A Bigger Weapon

The Coup - Pick A Bigger Weapon Artist: The Coup
Album: Pick A Bigger Weapon
Label: Epitaph / Ada
Rating: 5/5

The Coup’s latest album,
Pick A Bigger Weapon, comes four years after the release of their
last bombshell, Party Music, and only takes a rudimentary listening
for even the most casual of fans to realize it’s worth the wait. Simply,
it makes nearly any other album released recently seem tried and tired
in comparison.

What has always distinguished
The Coup from other hip-hop acts with outspoken political views is the
personalization of their politics. Artists too often feel that their
message is so important, so vital to their music, that they remove themselves
from the conversation. This has the effect of being preachy, isolating
listeners. But The Coup is different. Boots Riley and Pam the Funkstress,
the foundation of the group (although I do miss E-Rocc as the second
MC in the group, practically AWOL since the second album), take listeners
on a tour of not only their observations, stories, and ideas, but also
their lives. On every album Boots fills songs with such detail that
make it all but impossible to determine whether he’s being autobiographical
or simply telling a story in first person. That has always been the
hallmark of good rap story: the intense personalization and emotion
that blurs the lines between narrator, speaker, and audience. That’s
the best kind of gangsta rap, best kind of backpack rap, and best kind
of political rap.

Boots uses himself and the
world he grew up with as a benchmark for analyzing political views.
On “Laugh/Love/Fuck,” he effortlessly blends his own hopes of revolution
with his vice of choice and common denominator of desire among all humanity.
It’s life, and Boots doesn’t run from it. The politics Boots evokes
on “IJusWannaLayAroundAllDayInBedWithYou,” is not painful or preachy;
it’s matter-of-fact: the job the narrator has to leave his lover for,
and the frustrations at work, are just a part of the imperfections of
life and the world. “BabyLet’sHaveABabyBeforeBushDoSomethin’Crazy”
is a solo song by new Coup family member Silk E, and is both deeply
personal in its desperation and outreach as it is in its fatalism about
the future should this country follow its current path. (Boots, never
shy to call out politicos, also sends up Bush on his short and accurate
lesson on U.S.-Iran-Iraq relations over the past 25-plus years on “Head
(of State).”)

One of the hallmarks of Coup
albums is the song-cycle, a several-track mini-album within an album
either telling a particular narrative or containing songs that directly
segue into each other. On Pick A Bigger Weapon, that cycle begins
on the eighth track, “Yes ‘Em to Death,” and ends with the thirteenth,
“I Love Boosters!,” as one character, played by Boots, notices that
his friend, played by Dawud Allah, has caught a bad case of ass-kissing
and introduces him to the cure: ass-breath killers. We hear the commercial
for the pills – “Ass-Breath Killers” – followed by the pumping,
funky, hypnotically repetitive “Get That Monkey Off Your Back,”
which, instead of being about drugs or addiction, is more about rejecting
conventional thinking, and could be Dawud’s visceral reaction to the
pills. “Mindfuck” is a more analytical journey, as Boots decries
the 9-5 workaday malaise that wears people away from recognizing how
powerful they really are. By the end of the song Dawud’s pills are
starting to settle in, and so the audience is treated to one of the
highlights of the album, “I Love Boosters!” The song, extolling
the Robin Hood values of street hustlers who steal from department stores,
is special because it’s not preachy, but celebratory. It’s a happy
song, the lesson being that political awakening is rarely heavily-laden
with depression, but liberating. That’s why radical thought is so
addictive – it feels good, it feeds you, it liberates you. Instead
of telling you what you should do, what you should think, “I Love
Boosters!” offers a glimpse of how political analysis can make something
that feels good and right something that you can describe as … good
and right.

But despite being often liberating,
radical political thought often arises from a deep well of pain, and
that pain has also always been present on The Coup’s albums. Stories
of death, murder, and complicated love abound on them, and on this one
the song containing the most pain is undoubtedly “Tiffany Hall.”
Immediately following “Boosters,” the narrator on the song tells
the story of a childhood friend he deeply admired, who shared his politics,
but had a tragic accident which revealed a sad, hidden, and seemingly
contradictory side to her. The narrator questions himself whether he
was part of the complex that led to such an accident, and cannot comfort
himself with trite answers. Instead, he just expresses his love. The
woman is gone, and that’s the best he can do for her. Too late, he’s
trying to show her that he loved her for herself, not anyone she was
trying to be.

The ability to tell stories
through music, regardless of how the stories might be, always needs
good accompaniment. And even though past Coup albums have all been good
musically, this album brings the music to a different level. The funk
is there, and Boots lets an apparent Prince influence shine through
on several songs, including the aforementioned “IJusWannaLayAroundAllDayInBedWithYou.”
The soul instrumentation on “ShoYoAss” perfectly complements Boots’
use of outrage at the sadness of the world as a motivating tool.

The sampling on the album –
one of Pam’s gifts – is always superb and soulful, and the live
musicians that are part of this project use their time on Pick A
Bigger Weapon to stand out musically, but never at the expense of
the songs’ messages. Black Thought and Talib Kweli, who have the only
two cameos on the album on the single “My Favorite Mutiny,” bring
their A-Game, but, despite their lyrical wizadry, still are outdone
by Boots, as he recalls old ghosts to show that his is a spirit blessed
with song: “I ain’t just finna rap on a track I’m finna clap on
‘em back / And it’s been stackin to that 500 years befo’ Iceberg
ever leaned back in a ‘lac / Befo’ they told Rosa ‘Black in the
back’ / Befo the CIA told Ricky Ross to put crack in a sack / and
Gil Scott traded rappin’ for smack …” Damn straight, Boots.

This is a fantastic album by
one of the best groups out there. On a personal note, I’ve tended
to reserve the option of giving any album a perfect rating unless it’s
perfect, but whatever negative aspect I could think of about this album
– I feel any review that’s less than a wholehearted endorsement
should attempt to explain an album’s faults – sounded dishonest
to me. So, consider this a wholehearted endorsement. Is it a classic?
Only time will tell. I just know that I never tire of it.

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