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Boots Riley - conducted by Phayde  

Boots Riley Interview

June 2006

MVRemix: The Coup has been together for 15 years now, and has put out five albums. How do you manage to stay motivated when this industry is as frustrating as it is?

Boots Riley: I only put out stuff when I’m feeling it, and that’s hurt me in the past. With our second album, we were getting radio play in LA and Chicago—that was Genocide and Juice—and we had some things happen with the album and I really wasn’t feeling the industry anymore, but they were like, “You gotta come out with a new one.” I didn’t; I waited a few years until I really felt passionate about it. And plus, I don’t want to be the artist just rapping about rapping; I want to have a life and be able to bring that into it.

MVRemix: Right, like how music has become so disposable that two months after you put out what you think is a masterpiece, people are asking when the next album is.

Boots Riley: Yeah. I know some people that are like that, you know, and they really are feeling it, but I’m not one of those people. I’ve been in the studio with 2Pac and he’ll write a song in 15 minutes and then write another one a little bit later. It’s coming out of him, and I feel that. To me, people who do that, it’s like a Polaroid of right then and there, and there’s something to be said of that, but I think I want mine to be stuff where people feel it as if the music is right then and there. My music is not usually on the production fads that are going on right then; my music kind of goes on its own course. Like right when Neptunes came out, everybody had some beats that sounded like that. When Battlecat was doin’ stuff, everybody had some beats that was like that. Timbaland; everybody had something like that. The thing with me is that I started out trying to be like Ice Cube, but I couldn’t do it. I just wasn’t able to do it. I didn’t have the ability to sound like that. I would get jealous of people that could, like, “Oh, he can make his voice sound just like Ice Cube!” But I couldn’t, so it came out my way. I read an interview with Bob Marley, where he was like, he always tried to make his stuff sound exactly like Curtis Mayfield, but he wasn’t able to do it, and it came out sounding like his stuff. But anyway, I was never able to do that, so whenever my music comes out, everybody’s like, “Oh this sounds different,” you know what I’m saying? People just hearing Genocide and Juice for the first time, or Steal This Album for the first time, or Party Music for the first time, are like, “Oh, did this just come out?” because it’s not connected to only this time or this place. So it’s not important for me to have this beat that sounds like so-and-so.

MVRemix: Why do you think hip-hop is as effective as it is in getting through to the youth?

Boots Riley: Well, hip-hop has more ideas per minute than any other music to come in modern history. On top of that, you can convey such a wide range of emotions because it is music; it’s not just putting ideas out in a speech. It’s music, so you capture that part that is unquantifiable, and then combine that with mainly young people who don’t have power, don’t have a real voice in the world, being able to find a way to have a voice. It makes for a persuasive medium.

MVRemix: You have a daughter and two sons. How do you balance a career as time-consuming as this with your personal life?

Boots Riley: Ooh. That’s the constant struggle. We haven’t toured that often because of that, because of my wanting to have time to spend with them. They are nine (daughter), five and three months now.

MVRemix: Must be hard to leave them to go on the road.

Boots Riley: Yeah, it’s definitely hard. It can get depressing. What we’re doing right now is we’re trying to do it in spurts, so that when I do come back, I have way more time than someone that has a nine-to-five job or whatever, so I can spend all day with them. That takes discipline, because when you’re doing music, there’s no nine-to-five. Twelve at night, you could be getting a call about something. You have to just be able to turn the phone off and say, “Well, something might not get done.”

MVRemix: Tell me something that no one knows about Boots Riley.

Boots Riley: I was the moot court champion in high school.

MVRemix: What makes you happy?

Boots Riley: Good music, friends and sunny days.

MVRemix: What pisses you off?

Boots Riley: People taking too long in the concession line at the movie theatre.

MVRemix: If hip-hop was a woman, what would she look like?

Boots Riley: Well, there’s a lot of bass, so she’d be big on the bottom. She’d be loud; maybe she’d look like she’d be wearing loud colors. [Pauses to think] She would always be moving. And a member of several 12-step programs.

MVRemix: [Your fifth studio album] Pick a Bigger Weapon dropped on April 25 [2006]. How do you feel the response has been?

Boots Riley: Well, the responses that I’ve heard and read have all been really good. I didn’t know how people were gonna respond because a lot of this stuff was really personal. It was based on a relationship that I got out of. At the time that I wrote a lot of it, I was really in love. There are songs that seem like they’re just about politics and the world, like “Mindfuck” was really me arguing with her and using a whole series of vignettes to show why she can’t just close off to me until the last lines in the song; it kinda says something about that. So a lot of it was real personal. I didn’t know how anybody was gonna take it. But at the same time, I realized that me just making a song that feels right to me, that means that there are definitely gonna be people who relate to me who relate to my sense of music and style. At least I’m gonna get those folks. If I make something that I don’t like, I don’t know who will like it. So the response has been great. So far it seems like this is gonna be our biggest album ever, as far as people actually going out and getting it. And then review-wise, people are calling it our best album to date. This is our fifth album, so I had to take the lyric-writing and song-writing and conceptualizing to another level. Cee-Lo, I talked to him on the phone, and he was like, “Damn, it sounds like you’re hungry, like you’re just starting out.” I had to fight extra to make it sound good, because this is my fifth album and people are gonna be looking for it to start falling off.

MVRemix: Any other projects you working on now?

Boots Riley: When we get off tour we’re gonna be working on a new album. There’s a collaboration between me and dead prez called The Instigators that we’ll be finishing up this year. Silk E, who sings with us, we’ll definitely be working on an album for her. Then there’s a band project called The Fire, and I’ll be doing production for various people.

MVRemix: You ever get annoyed that so many interviewers keep asking you politics?

Boots Riley: I just worry about, sometimes, when the music isn’t talked about. Let’s say they only talk about your political views; [some people might think] all these other articles talk about the music of these groups and nothing about what their ideas are, so the only thing good about this group is probably their politics. Me, I don’t want to hear something that I agree with that doesn’t sound good, anyway. The music comes first.

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"It’s music, so you capture that part that is unquantifiable, and then combine that with mainly young people who don’t have power, don’t have a real voice in the world, being able to find a way to have a voice. It makes for a persuasive medium."