It's tempting to call the Coup the most interesting group in hip hop. But, after a careful listen to their first album in six years, Sorry to Bother You, it seems that the band might take that as an insult. Sorry to Bother You finds the band stretching out in so many areas while tightening down on their sound that they seem less interested in representing Hip Hop than sonic experimentation and evolution. The risk taking pays off in dividends.
Opener "Magic Clap" sets the tone and feel for the album. Driven forward by a sparse bass and clicking guitar, the song is more an amalgamation of new wave and late '70s electro-funk than anything else. But, the combination is more than the sum of its parts. The Coup has opted for a sparse, effective sound that strikes as hard as lead emcee Boots Riley's lyrics. There is no fat here. Meanwhile, Riley's delivery has evolved. On "Magic Clap" he raps as much as he sings, evoking a style reminiscent of Prince and Andre3000, which is danceable, but also functions to deliver Riley's strong political opinions. It's a delivery style designed for maximum listenability and maximum impact.
Riley might be singing to the converted, but he's also plying to the uninitiated. Smartly, instead of opting for admonitions, Riley makes revolution sound like a party, inviting others to join, instead of threatening them if they don't. On "Strange Arithmetic," Riley encourages teachers to instruct students on opposition in lieu of obedience. Between the the new wave, science-y synth and popping drums, Riley creates arguments that are logically compelling, but also sonically, and thus, emotionally compelling as well.
The presence of a full live band on the record allows for interesting sonic experiments, such as the kazoo army on "Your Parents' Cocaine," but it has also caused Riley to change his cadence. While his older rhymes were dense, he now delivers with a solid, simple impact, in some ways, acting similarly to the delivery style of one of Riley's heroes, Ice Cube, on his earliest releases. Still, Riley's lines, while paired down, retain their clever, and sometimes metaphysical conceptualizations. "My Murder, My Love" contains one of the weirdest, and most zen moments in hip hop when Riley opines "Even mountains are in flux." On "You Are Not a Riot" Riley forces militant, socialist artist David Siquieros with pop icon Andy Warhol where Siquieros dresses down Warhol for co-opting the aesthetic of rebellion without the meaning. Certainly the parallels to contemporary art are self-evident.
Meanwhile, co-vocalist Silk-E delivers some of her best work. A combination of Tina Turner fiery soul and modern R + B smoothness, Silk-E sounds as assured of herself as she is frayed. In lieu of a perfected tone, she's raw and direct. The timbre of her voice alone makes "This Year" both optimistic as it is pessimistic. Silk-E has the delivery skill of Betty Davis, suggesting multiple interpretations through tone alone, elevating "This Year" from a story to a tool for personal use.
Sorry to Bother You is intended to be a soundtrack to an upcoming film of the same name. But, the songs fit together so well, and the Coup's central message of socialistic political change is as fiery as ever, so the album doesn't sound like a soundtrack so much as a collection of related arguments. And as before, the arguments are compelling. Rarely has a beat spruced up political argument with such effect.
Between the ubiquitous '80s synthesizer, kazoos, co-vocalist Silk-E's wailing and punk-ish instrumentation, you could argue that the Coup is trying to expand hip hop. But, because the album is well crafted, and relies on so many troupes outside of usual hip hop, it doesn't seem like the group considered the concept of hip hop so much as the concept of making interesting music. The result is something of a jarring break from the band's discography, but a break in the best way. The music is as compelling as it is interesting, but it's still definitely the Coup. If anything, the radical changes forces the listener to take notice and either join in, or forcefully oppose the Coup's new expositions. Certainly the parallels to contemporary politics are self-evident.