Boots Riley (The Coup) conducted by Phayde  

Boots Riley (The Coup) Interview

March 2007

MVRemix: Yeah, he has Dreams from my Father and The Audacity of Hope. The first one's more about his life and upbringing and the second one's more about his political views.

Boots Riley: The book I'm trying to finish right now is called Pirates of the Caribbean by Tariq Ali. It's really interesting because it's mainly talking about these South American leaders that are the new radical front of the world. It's very well put in words, and a very academic-style book, but most of those academic-style books I can only read a chapter here or a piece of it there. This guy's just a great writer, so you can read it from front to back. He puts Castro in context and even though there's a lot of fucked up shit about Cuba, the one really good thing was that they were able to support all these... Evo Morales and Hugo Chávez and all of these people… people are not making murals of them all throughout the middle east. You know, Al-Jazeera had Chávez on their station dubbed over in Arabic, and they had the biggest ratings ever, of anything Al-Jazeera has ever done. They got 35,000 e-mails, and according to a manager at Al-Jazeera, the majority of them, like 90% said, "When is the middle east going to produce a leader like Chávez?" Because he was on there saying, "Look, we've got all of this oil wealth." Boots Riley Interview

"Everywhere in the world, people naturally clamor for more power and for more democratic power, you know? And that's the natural order of things."

MVRemix: If Boots Riley was president of the United States, what would we be doing right now?

Boots Riley: Taking orders from the corporations… if I was going to stay president. [Laughs] Well, to become president, that is what I'd have to do. If I was in there for life, supreme leader… [Laughs] Let's say this: If I was able to give ideas to a truly democratically run side on what needs to be done, it would be to cut down the wealth of some of the top heads of some of these corporations and spread that around into the workforce, which would do a lot of things. It would be able to make there be full employment in the US, which would then eradicate the need to sell coke. What I would also do is not engage in what the US has engaged in, which is go into other countries where the people— Everywhere in the world, people naturally clamor for more power and for more democratic power, you know? And that's the natural order of things. The reason it's not like that all over the world is because of the USA's power. So, I would stop all of that, and that would make things a lot fairer and put the power in the hands of a lot more people.

MVRemix: Do you ever feel pressure to strictly adhere to the messages you put forth in your music, or are you ever just like, "Fuck it, Wal-Mart's got 24 rolls of toilet paper for $4.50"?

Boots Riley: See, that doesn't conflict with what I believe in. I shop at Wal-Mart. A lot of times, since there hasn't been a big movement going on for a long time, what's replaced the movement and direct action has been this sort of boycott strategy, meaning you don't have to organize anything, and you don't really have to do anything, you can just say, "Well, I don't buy Nike, or I don't buy Wal-Mart," but it doesn't really change anything because for one, you can't organize people to not do that. It's not effective historically. And two, the exploitation is at the production point. So if you want to stop that exploitation, you help to create unions in these places. You support a lot of the radical organizations all throughout Asia and Latin America that are trying to create unions and raise the wages. We've gotten away from organizing at the point of the conflict and started thinking about what kind of consumerism we want to engage in, and that's not really the question. So yeah. Wal-Mart is the cheapest place I can buy. But, again, I also support things like No Sweat Apparel. When I make my clothes, I don't buy stuff from sweat shops. One time there was a mistake and when I caught it I sent them back, but I get my stuff from American Apparel or No Sweat Apparel [now].

MVRemix: How'd you hear about that?

Boots Riley: Well, I was involved with organizing an anti-racist farm workers union when I was 15, so I stayed for a few summers in an area of central California. At the same time, there were people that were making this anti-racist sweatshop union in downtown LA, and we worked with them a lot.

MVRemix: What I meant was, how did you find out about sweatshops being involved in your merch.

Boots Riley: Oh. Well, most of this stuff is sweatshops. There's only a couple places that don't use sweatshops. You know those couple places: one is American Apparel, the other No Sweat Apparel. Everybody else is using— Most of hip-hop, conscious or not, if they're not buying it from those two, are getting it from little teenagers. Not even teenagers; there are 12 year olds that are making that t-shirt for cheap. So if I'm selling it, I don't want to be part of that production. So that's different from being on the consumer end of it.

MVRemix: So yall had merch going through sweatshops and found out?

Boots Riley: Yeah it was like for these five shows. We used to go through Giant Peach and choose what I specifically wanted, so she would always get that. Then she gave part of the business over to someone that was a business associate and he printed up the shirts and she didn't know about that, I guess. By the second show, people were like, "Man, what's going on with you guys? You're using sweatshops?" We're like, "Oh shit, what's going on with that?" We just sent them back.

MVRemix: So back to the music tip real quick: How is the project with dead prez [The Instigators] coming along?

Boots Riley: You know, it's coming along, but it's not coming along fast. Me and [], stic is one of my best friends, and we both take up similar space in the studio, meaning we both are very opinionated and it takes a long time before we are down with something that we did, so having both of us makes it even a narrower window. We kinda move on, doing our own thing, and when we get together, we get in the studio and do some stuff. What we decided now is the best way is to go with an outside producer, then we don't have to go back and forth with each other.

MVRemix: Any plans for the next Coup album yet?

Boots Riley: Yeah, I'm always writing. Right now, though, I'm writing this album with Tom Morello. It's called Street Sweeper. I'm gonna try to do that first, but yeah, I been writing. We're gonna do an album with a lot of old— well, I don't know. There's just some production tweaks that we're gonna go through, but it's definitely gonna be on the next level. But yeah, I don't want there to be a big gap.

MVRemix: Yeah, last time you were saying you only wrote when motivated and that had hurt you in the past.

Boots Riley: Yeah the key is to put myself in situations that are motivating, and make sure I don't get bogged down with, you know, the tediousness of being on the phone, like, "Okay, what's going on when we go to Denver?" That can get so tedious and really mundane.

MVRemix: Are you even trying to shoot for a date yet?

Boots Riley: Well, the new Coup album probably early 2008, because we're going to put out the Street Sweeper album and that'll be on Epic, and that'll be a lot bigger and help out the Coup album. And, in a couple months, we're about to do an album with Silk E.

MVRemix: Right, you were talking about that last time.

Boots Riley: Yeah, the accident happened, but now she's got her lungs back, you know.

MVRemix: Anything else you got planned for 2007?

Boots Riley: 2007, we're hitting a lot of festivals. We'll be at pretty much all of the big festivals.

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