Shortly after the World Trade Center towers collapsed on September 11, the Coup's leader, Boots, was informed by execs at his record company that he'd need to change the cover of his group's fourth album, Party Music. The reason? The original cover showed Boots and groupmate DJ Pam the Funkstress blowing up the WTC.
"In the end, I made the decision," Boots said. "Two hours after the thing happened, we got the call saying, 'OK, you've got to have another album cover. No discussion.' That was it. It was one of the first things that I saw in a series of censorship things."
Boots complied with the wish the new cover shows a hand cradling a flaming cocktail on a bar, with a gallon of gasoline sitting nearby.
The artwork is the only thing that was changed on the San Francisco Bay area group's new collection, which arrived in stores November 6. "I would rather the full Coup get exposed to a tenth of the people than have some watered-down, corporately changed and manipulated Coup get exposed to a million people," he said.
The 12-cut Party Music brims with charged political messages. It remains consistent with the Coup's earlier funk-inspired work, which is largely shaped by Boots, a self-declared communist and community activist.
The track "5 Million Ways to Kill a C.E.O." examines the upper class' unquenchable greed, while "Get Up" rallies for a revolution against what Boots and guests Dead Prez say is a corrupt U.S. government. The cut also makes a statement about the current level of hip-hop activism.
"I think it's cool for the Coup and Dead Prez to make a showing together," Boots said. "They're out there on the East Coast and I'm here on the West Coast. We're both talking about pretty much the same sh--, and it shows that two groups of people that were pretty much unconnected were affected by the same sh-- and came to some of the same conclusions. It shows that the movement has actually grown."
The current hip-hop activism is less overt than when such groups as Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions and Poor Righteous Teachers rose to prominence more than a decade ago. What makes this new crop of artists different than its predecessors, Boots said, is that it contains members who are involved in organizations that focus on making tangible changes to shortcomings in current governmental policies. That is a marked change to the situation in the early '90s, when there was no movement to support the artists rallying for reform.
"Listening to Public Enemy, Poor Righteous Teachers, the Coup, whatever, that's not filling up your refrigerator when you get home," Boots said. "That's not what's paying your rent, what's keeping the police from harassing you. So the problems stayed the same because the music was not connected to any real movement."
Boots started the Young Comrades in the mid-'90s. The group protested at Oakland's City Council and supported such organizations as the Eviction Defense Committee. But he knows that he is not alone in his activist ways. He cites an April 1998 strike in Macedonia, Ohio, where McDonald's workers protested unfair wages and working conditions, as an example of people organizing to right wrongs. After a five-day strike, the workers' base pay was raised.
Boots said that people need to see political activism result in actual, material change before more people will become involved.
"When we first came out, I heard comments like, 'Your music is tight and you're spitting some game, but I got to get paid,' " Boots said. "My idea of the music is that if you've got to get paid, then the movement is for you. The ideas that came out of those first [examples of our type of music] were that the movement was about self-love and self-pride and that that was separate from the material world, when in reality the movement, like the Black Panthers, was about nothing but material.
"When [the Black Panthers] talked about stuff, it was free breakfast programs, about the wealth getting shared. That's what we're talking about, the material necessities that people need: food, clothing and shelter, immediately. Then, we need it to be good food, clothing and shelter. I don't ever want anybody to think there's a choice between either the movement or getting paid.
"We need to see more strikes at places where they're making billions of dollars and the people are getting paid minimum wage," he continued. "When we talk about giving back, we only seem to talk about them giving back [in the form of] donations to UNICEF. The real investment needs to be through the wages. The only way that's going to happen is through strikes and things."
Strikes need to be publicized in order to lead to broader change, which is why Boots agreed to redo the album cover for Party Music. If the album isn't in record stores, then he can't generate change.
"I have no wantings to just be some kind of elitist rap group that only has the people that consider themselves ultra-conscious listening to their sh--," Boots said. "All our sh-- hasn't been so much preaching to the person to change their ways as much as saying, 'Sh-- is f---ed up. Let's go change it.' "
For more information on and audience reaction to the attacks, including tips on how you can help, see "9.11.01: Moving Forward."
Share your thoughts on the attacks in Afghanistan in You Tell Us.