INTERVIEW: Boots Riley [The Coup]

In Interviews by Katie Allen


The lead singer/rapper of The Coup Boots Riley is a prominent figure within the Occupy movement in Oakland California.  The veteran rapper uses music as an outlet to speak out against political and social injustice; with lyrics that criticise police brutality, racism, capitalism and patriarchal exploitation. He spoke to Kate Allan ahead of his show at London’s Goldsmiths University on 29th Oct check it out!

Hi I hope you are having an awesome time in London so far-

Ah unfortunately haven’t got to see much of it, sad we leave in a few hours to Amsterdam, though what can we do up to 5am is the Jazz Cafe in Camden open on a Monday night? I went to Fabric to celebrate Kev’s the keyboardists birthday, nobody would go with him so I went! I liked how the lights connected to the beat, everything’s synchronized. It was all House music, not against it but had to drink alot to get in the zone and loosen up.
First of all what are your views on the current 2012 political London Hip hop scene, any favourite artists?
I’m just getting to grips with it, people have given me stuff recently that I’ve heard but can’t place names. It seems and appears to be a very exciting and invigorated time, so yeah from I can gather there’s a interesting burgeoning scene and that is kinda what’s happening all over the world- there’s certainly a new movement happening. Great artists coming out, oh yeah Lowkey his stuff is good I heard his track with M1. I believe here it’s a marker of things happening within various city cultures!
What made you decide upon the album title to be ‘Sorry To Bother You’?
Well I’ve wrote a movie script out next year, it’s a dark comedy with magical realism inspired by my time as a telemarketer and the title is just that. This is the soundtrack to that movie, somewhat tongue in cheek designed to take you out of your regular scheduled programming and you know its kinda just saying this aesthetically and content wise to get away from the ordinary flow of things. We tried to make things off kilter so you are actually paying attention to it. Music is such a mega force yet can generally have a generic formula so I just wanted to make something that kept your ears perked up and see what was going to happen.   

Wow so does it reflect your roots as well, may I ask your heritage?
Of course, I’m African-American and often we don’t know much more than that, our parents are from black folk that came over and were slaves so it reflects in a sense the music. I always listen to loads of different kinds and I think with this album I let more of those influences in than I normally would, because usually I let people talk me out of certain ideas but I didn’t this time and also I wanted the album to sound as close to what we sound live, it has a bit of Gangafore and Rick James so! 
Cool, so the photography on your album, was it a combined effort with creating the concept?
Well it was my idea, but I went Marvin Fletch who are a collective of photographers. It was a one shot deal no photoshopping, just me on the floor doing a crutch and a guy leaning over and stuff flung in the air that got in the shot. They just had a way of shooting that like Mad magazine, something to do with the vibes or whatever but they won’t tell me so kept underwraps!
What are your upcoming projects you are in the process of developing from the start of 2013, is anything set in motion?
The movie that I wrote is being produced, by a guy named Ted Hope who did 21 Grams, The Ice Storm, American Splendor and whole bunch of independent movies. Also this director Alex Rivera will be his second feature film, the other was The Sleep Dealer’. Like I said it has magic realism and dark comedy but also science fiction, it’s really like the country Brazil meets the novel ‘Invisible Man’ so we will be showing that in the Spring. We are touring, promoting this album also more when the movie comes out. The main character is Cassius Green and there’s a little nod to him on the album called ‘We’ve got a lot to teach you, Cassius Green’, since it’s an independent thing we will still be promoting it.
Any ideas how you will be celebrating New Years yet?    
Well it has to be in the US, I don’t really like to perform then because I can’t get drunk before I go on and end up missing out, got so mad last time, best not reveal now haha.
So what advice would you give your adolescent self in hindsight? 
I tell you something, there are things I personally had to go through to reach that certain point, mistakes had to be made or I wouldn’t be the person who I am today. It’s hard to say that though, I guess the difference if my teenage self was here right now would be summed up around flexibility. As a band we used to do 7 minute songs with no chorus at all, back then our songs were slower and longer for riding in the car so we just wouldn’t. For that I thought it would look like we were selling out, not the fact it would increase fan’s enjoyment. To the point we were starting up and our label said “We want you to do a college tour” and we were like ‘hell no way, that’s not street – sea of red cups nah uh’! But obviously I’ve changed my mind and it dawned on me you have to reach out to all walks of life, who are well receptive and can action our ideas. We even turned down Janet Jackson, she wanted to sample my voice running through her whole record and give me credit but I was hard-headed and stubborn back then- we wanted it to be symbolic!
Who would you say were your childhood influences, was there anything on vinyl when younger you played on loop…?
Let’s see definitely Prince, Karl Marx and Spiderman. I bought ‘The Message’ by accident Suga Hill Gang, it had the same label on it and was more of a party song so I just looked at the picture. I was so disappointed, it seemed to only talk about broken glass and prostitutes, ya know I don’t wanna hear about this shit it’s one song on an entire record a total rip off! That I remember clearly as the first vinyl I bought, I didn’t understand the whole single thing then. At the time I was learning the guitar, funnily enough my teacher only taught me Beatles songs, which I appreciate now but then you wanna play different stuff so have a lot of ‘excuse the pun’ strings to your bow.
Any particular role models growing up, whether it be a musician, teacher or family member?
Without doubt my father who raised and brought up my little brother. He was always working so installed that ethic within us being the paternal influence. There were political figures around me when  I was around 14, started being an organiser actually…a guy from Manchester who was in my eyes revolutionary was being involved in trade unions and part of me cutting my teeth with political issues plus in association with democratic freedom. Yet however, he was always joking and laughing so having a real original perspective upon the world. Not at all serious but rather cheerful, really analysis is irony, covering satire and wit too, you know looking at contradictions of things and paradoxes, so you gotta observe and come to your own conclusions. He would always say “If can’t drink a pint with the man, then how can you convince him to go on strike with you?” 
Well said Mr Riley!