When the politically charged San Francisco Bay Area hip-hop duo the Coup began to put together their third record, Steal This Album, they knew people might raise their eyebrows about the album's title -- not to mention songs that criticize George Washington, capitalism and hip-hop's fascination with pimps.
But crewmember Boots said that was a chance the Coup were willing to take in an industry that he claimed has stagnated art in an effort to sell records.
"It's going to happen with hip-hop if it doesn't really represent the people, and being a commodity is stopping it from representing the people," Boots explained. "On the other hand, if people do steal the album, we still get paid from it because retailers are responsible for it as soon as it hits the store."
According to rapper Boots, the group decided to call its latest Steal This Album as a comment on the growth of hip-hop culture as a commodity, not as a call to arms.
It is his hope, he said, that people will realize that a culture ceases to develop when it becomes nothing more than a commodity. He cited what he feels is the often-stagnant state of blues, jazz and rock 'n' roll as an example.
"If any retailers are reading this, we really are not making the call for people to come into your store and steal it," Boots said. "We're just telling the facts that if they did steal it, it would be the retailer's fault."
Aside from causing retailers to keep a watchful eye on Coup fans as they flock to record stores Tuesday to pick up the album, Raymond "Boots" Riley, 25, and DJ/producer Pam "the Funktress" Warren, 30, are hoping that the record spurs their listeners to political action and debate.
To that end, Steal This Album features such songs as the lighthearted anti-credit anthem "The Repo Man Sings For You," with guest rapper Del the Funky Homosapien, and the funky "Piss On Your Grave" (RealAudio excerpt), which describes Boots urinating on the grave of Washington, the first president of the U.S., as punishment for his past sins.
Boots said he hoped people wouldn't be offended by "Piss On Your Grave" but "would find it to be some sort of thought-out rebellion."
"In the verse before I [do exactly what the title says], I talk about some of what George Washington's role in history was that they don't talk about. You know, ... the fact [is] that he was a slave owner and ... that he was just another lackey for ... an up-and-coming merchant class that just wanted to rule the world."
Both Boots and the Funkstress said they made a concentrated effort to make this album funkier, and therefore more accessible, than their previous efforts, 1993's Kill My Landlord and 1994's Genocide and Juice.
"When we were discussing this album, I told Boots that I wanted something a little faster," the Funkstress said. "I want something I can play in a club. I gave him a perspective as a DJ and told him that the flow and his vibe is cool, but let's pick it up, OK? I want something faster that I can open a show with."
It has been four years since their last album. But Boots said that they began working in earnest on the new recording last August. Their long break was intended to focus their energies on writing songs about reality instead of songs about rapping.
The pair then recruited friends who were musicians to lay down some funky tracks for the Funkstress to scratch over.
Many were based on songs by such funk-heroes as singer/songwriter The Artist Formerly Known As Prince and the jamming R&B collective Parliament-Funkadelic. Meanwhile, Boots worked on all-night writing sessions in the place where he feels the most creative -- his car.
The result was an album's worth of such politically focused raps as "The Shipment" (RealAudio excerpt), which takes aim at the business of hip-hop; "Me & Jesus The Pimp in a '79 Granada Last Night," which examines the effects of idolizing street pimps; and "Cars and Shoes" (RealAudio excerpt), which examines the merits of having a vehicle that doesn't work versus hoofing it to a relatively close destination.
For Boots, the songs are less about politics and more about reality.
"I think that, all in all, there's very few people that are putting out music that truly represents the life and the feelings of the people that listen to it and the people that [made it]," Boots said. "I think that all hip-hop could be more political if people wrote about some truisms as opposed to right now, where hip-hop is based on a lot of fantasy."