Boots Riley - Live in San Francisco (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Boots Riley

Live in San Francisco (2012)

live show

Because he's a member of hip hop, and fierce advocate for communism, and an ardent supporter of the Occupy movement, Coup emcee Boots Riley was the subject for Arts, Culture, and Resistance, a spoken word discussion about the intersection of art and political change. Hosted by Bay Area Radio host and programmer Davey D, the presentation found Davey D pitching concepts for Boots to pontificate to an interested, if somewhat unfocused audience June 16 in San Francisco's Redstone Building.

For the majority of the conversation, Riley focused on the concept of movements having art to represent it, thus one charging the other. Riley expressed that as powerful as Public Enemy and KRS-One's early records were, their spotlight in the mainstream was brief. Riley asserted that the reason PE's revolutionary lyrics never actually caused revolution was because there was no actual movement to push forward with PE's concepts. Rather, it seemed that Riley felt that while listeners found PE's lyrics interesting, the concept of widespread revolution was so celestial that it was little more than fantasy.

By contrast, Riley drew point to the continued success of what is often called "gangsta rap." Riley argued that because gangsta rap speaks in tangibles, that is "here is how you can make money" and "here are the steps for breaking out of your current life situation" with direct reference, listeners were able to associate with that and use it as a movement, or at least see it as a more viable platform.

Riley makes a good point in stating that the directness of gangsta rap allows for easier association. But, one also wonders, is gangsta rap a tangible, or is it escapism? That is, are the majority of listeners using gangsta rap as a way to push beyond their situation, or as a way to retreat from it into a wild west like fantasy?

Interestingly, Riley pointed out that in conversation with "gangsta rappers" they would mention to him that the leftist politics of the Coup are nearly the same as gangta rap. That is, both art forms seek to change the current economic situation and inequality, just through different methods.

Host Davey D made several interesting points concerning radio play. Davey D mentioned how corporate media has a tighter grasp on what can be played on the radio. Where he used to have a 3,000 song selection, Davey D stated that he has been whittled down to 300 songs, with 100 getting the majority of play time. It would seem that even music, a restriction to music, can be way to fight social change.

Still, I had to disagree with Davey D's assessment of Flava Flav's appearance on Flavor of Love. Davey D seemed to suggest that Flav's appearance on the program was a violation of PE's political stance. But to me, Flava Flav was never the political element of PE. Rather, Flav's purpose in PE is to get people to pay attention to group, to act as a bridge for the less politically knowledgeable. Chuck D pounding the truth about economic schemes can be somewhat daunting to political newcomers, but no matter what, even to the newbie, Flav is as clever as he is funny. As evidence, when I saw PE before Flavor of Love, the show was about half full. But after the series ended, PE's shows were packed, and had a significantly larger proportion of teenagers than before, thus suggesting that Flava Flav was performing his function in the group.

The program concluded with a question and answer session. However, the audience's reaction was disappointing. Instead of focusing on the Occupy movement, or asking Riley about the content of his discussion, the five or so people that asked questions seemed to want to direct the spotlight on themselves. One fellow spoke at length about a mural at a local library being covered up. Another fellow seemed more interested in pitching his website and the fact that he and Riley debated once on some blog than addressing the contents of the lecture. An elderly lady spent her question time retelling the story of how her parents were socialists during the McCarthy era. The information was interesting, but it literally had nothing to do with the lecture and squandered the precious time we had with Riley to learn about what he thought, particularly since those interested in promoting their own objectives could have talked to others at the reception following the discussion.

Random notes:

-Riley is coming out with a book on Haymarket Books in the fall. I don't know if I can think of a more worthy emcee to write a book on politics than Boots. (Maybe Chuck D?)

-I wanted to use my question to ask Boots how he got the nickname.

-Vegan sugar cookies taste like ASS.