The Coup in Canada (November 2006)


By Norman (Otis) Richmond



Boots Riley

After many years of phone conversations, emails and messages from relatives and friends I finally met Boots Riley. Riley is the face of the hip-hop crew, the Coup, along with Pam “The Funktress,” who was unable to make the trip to Toronto for the Coup’s recent debut performance here at the Reverb.

Despite driving himself, a three piece band and one back up vocalist/rapper, Riley and crew were more than able to please the crowd as they breezed though tracks from their catalogue of CDs, which includesParty Music, Steal This Album, and Genocide & Juice. They also performedseveral tracks from their forthcoming CD, Picka Bigger Weapon. “MyFavorite Mutiny” and “Baby Let’s Make a Baby” were well received by theToronto crowd. “My Favorite Mutiny,” which features Black Thought (from the Roots) and Talib Kweli, heated up the spot. “Me & Jesus The Pimp In A79 Granada Last Night” and other tracks rocked the house.

However, the real crowd pleaser was Boots a cappella rendition of “TheUnderdog.” The group was forced to do an encore and they pleased their audience with “Ghetto Manifesto” and “Wear Clean Draws” which Boots dedicated to his daughter. The Coup’s band sounded like Larry Graham (of the group Sly & The Family Stone) on bass, Jimi Hendrix (world’s most influential guitarist) on guitar, and Earl Young (MFSB) on drums. The musicians in the Coup band are Quebec Jackson, Drums; Riccol Johnson,Bass; and Steve Wyreman, Guitar. Silk-E is the vocalist/rapper with the group.

We caught up with Riley before the performance. The interview was conducted as Riley drove himself to his hotel in Mississauga to come back and do his show. The Coup’s new CD Picka Bigger Weapon was discussed. The new album features a wide range of artists like Jello Biafra, Dead Prez, and members from the Parliament and the Gap Band. Riley spoke to us about everything from Hip Hop and politics to Katrina and Kanye West to the case of Crip co-founder Stanley Tookie Williams.

Williams is The San Quentin inmate who was nominated for the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize by a member of the Swiss Parliament. Williams, now 47, was sentenced to death in 1981 for four robbery-related murders.

The Crips, a notorious youth street organization (gang), which he and a friend started in South Central Los Angeles in 1971, spread to cities throughout the United States and Canada. Copycat gangs would soon crop up in South Africa and Switzerland. Williams experienced a reawakening in1993 and has since attempted to turn his life around. He’s written Tookie Speaks Out Against Gang Violence, a series of eight readers aimed at urban youth, and Life in Prison, a biography detailing the isolation and despair of death row. He has done this in collaboration with his editor, Barbara Cottman Becnel, detailing the isolation and despair of death row.

The Sundance and Cannes Festival recognized ‘Redemption’, 2004 TV movie filmed in Toronto, Canada and based on William’s life story featured a stellar cast, including Jamie Foxx starring as the former Crips gang leader, ‘Thin Line Between Love And Hate’ actress Lynn Whitfield playing the co-author of William’s books Barbara Becnel, and Canadian Hip-Hop forefather Maestro as former Crips lieutenant turned “Tookie Protocol ForPeace” ambassador.

Riley said that the climate is such that the right-wing Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, could go ahead with December 13 the execution of Williams. Jamie Foxx, Danny Glover and Snoop Dogg have all called for Williams not to be executed.

Riley was excited that Melvin Van Peeples wants to produce the Coup’s next video. He says Van Peebles heard the track “We Are The One’s” and loved the story, adding that Van Peebles, father of Mario Van Peebles, best known as the director of Sweet Sweetback’s Baad Asssss Song, was so impressed that he agreed not to be too rigid on the price of production.

This is not the first time that a successful Hollywood personality has worked with the Coup. Roger Guenveur Smith who has acted in most of SpikeLee’s films produced Me And Jesus The Pimp In A 79 Granada Last Night.Back in 1999 the African Liberation Month Coalition and CKLN-FM 88.1screened the video of Me and Jesus the Pimp In A 79 Granada Last Night along with the Murder of Fred Hampton.

Riley feels we cannot trust the system because, at its core, it’s designed to exploit people. Over the past few years, U.S. imperialism has upped the ante, he says, adding that we need to do is be strategic and target companies and their subsidiaries that do business or have any sort of connection to the war effort. We need to shut them down, he says.

The Chicago-born rapper said that he is impressed the many of the new flock of hip hop artists. He spoke about the fact that while 50 Cent maybe hot at the moment, in reality he is not selling tons of units. Riley believes it is in the interest of the system to promote the “Get Rich OrDie Tryin’” school of thought. According to Riley artists like dead prez,Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common and Kanye West are examples of the new breed of hip hop.

Toronto-based journalist and radio producer Norman (Otis) Richmond can be heard on Diasporic Music, Sundays, 2 p.m.-4 p.m. Streams on Uhuru Radio,  Link.

NB: this text is copyrighted, and only limited excerpting with full attribution is permitted. For licensing and reproduction permissions, please contact Norman Otis Richmond at


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