Party Music is the fourth LP by the Coup, the Bay-area duo comprised of Boots Riley, a self-proclaimed communist, and Pam the Funktress, his DJ and right-hand woman. The album was supposed to be a kind of culmination of the rhetoric Boots honed on the Coup’s previous recordings — most notably, the excellent Steal This Record. But it turns out the biggest story about Party Music wasn’t anything Boots said; it was the album’s cover, which featured him and DJ Pam kneeling in front of exploding World Trade Center towers.
After Sept. 11, the cover was replaced by a different rendering, over Boots’ objections. Whatever its departure says about the public’s ability to handle incendiary images in the wake of 9.11.01, Boots’ desire to keep the World Trade Center cover says a lot about the kinds of ideas he spits out on Party Music. Good luck gleaning many solid theses or any kind of plan of action from his rhymes. When he deals directly with his enemies, he’s more about exaggeration and sloganeering — offering “5 Million Ways to Kill a CEO,” claiming bigwigs are actually just “lazy motherfuckers.” Which kind of makes you wonder: Why does one of the best and most interesting rappers in the game have to resort to rote hyperbole to address his enemies? And, can purportedly political rhymes such as these do much more than paint a picture — and sometimes a less-than-accurate picture — of the excesses of CEOs or the problems that dominate American inner cities?
Whatever. The questions aren’t moot, not by a long shot. It’s just that Party Music is, in fact, party music — or not far from it. Amid some extremely deft hooks, DJ Pam is at the peak of her powers, which means the tracks are bouncy, funky and full of neat electro touches. Boots’ best lyrics, delivered in a dexterous conversational flow, work less as screeds and more as ghetto vignettes and calls to arms, the sorts of things with as much “political” resonance as tried-and-true hip-hop exhortations such as “throw your hands in the air.”
The album isn’t retro per se, but a lot of it recalls the kind of late-’60s soul music where politics were so well intertwined with the music that artists didn’t have to try to be political — they just were. And even though its spirit is stronger than any agenda it might suggest, revolution rarely sounds this good.
E-mail Christian David Hoard at firstname.lastname@example.org.