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“See me with an angry face and a beanie, ’cause my relationship with Uncle Sam is steamy…”
Midway through Genocide & Juice, we hear an invigorated Boots Riley proclaim: “Face down, floating on the Mississippi River. Burning crosses and motherfuckers saying, ‘Die n---a die n---a.’” The line is a standout from “Gunsmoke,” an emotive song that reveals Riley’s penchant for vivid writing, typically anchored by a deft sense of history and politics that address race and oppressive power structures. As the album unfolds, on “Hard Concrete,” Riley explains the development of his socially incisive material: “I wonder why my teacher’s sweating me. I did my history, it don’t relate to me, my GPA 1.3.”
Genocide & Juice was The Coup’s second album, an emboldened level-up from their first full length, Kill My Landlord, which took portions from their first release, 1991’s The EP. While early Coup material had moments that blossomed on later efforts, Genocide & Juice was where those ideas deepened, becoming more pronounced as their catalog grew. Production-wise, it’s replete with colorful samples, thorough skits and big bass, a perfect intersection of ’90s sample-based ingenuity and West Coast funk. Hints of Ant Banks’ production or Eugenius, a little RBL Posse, too. The album’s choruses are akin to early E-40 and The Click, loud and sometimes funny but with hints of menace. Forty Fonzarelli aptly appears on the memorable “Santa Rita Weekend” with another West Coast stalwart, Spice 1. To this day it remains one of The Coup’s most essential tracks.
Genocide & Juice is mainly two things: neighborhood tales and unapologetic worldviews bound with fisted activism. But there are voices and sound effects woven throughout that give it more texture. Killer production that was able to sound both clearly professional while retaining its edge. The group’s core members at the time — Riley, Pam the Funkstress and E-Roc — are depicted on the album’s cover. It should be noted that The Coup has had a rotating troupe of musicians through the years; two guitarists, a bassist and a drummer, for example. Colleagues notably included JJ Jungle, Hassan Hurd, Silk-E, Grego Simmons and more. There are correlations between The Coup and other Oakland titans, Digital Underground, in that both had a gaggle of studio players that added to their overall sound, despite many being unaware of the deep-level musicianship strewn throughout their work.
The rest of The Coup’s output following Genocide & Juice would further lampoon American politics, capitalism, addiction and police brutality. Riley was always the group’s lead voice and stalwart lyricist, charismatic onstage but also pulling levers behind the scenes. Anybody who’s seen his live show could attest. Riley the artist, the bandleader and frontman, is one in the same as Riley the activist and Riley the protagonist. This can be traced back to 1991, when he helped establish the Mau Mau Rhythm Collective, a crew whose aim was to use hip-hop as a tool to publicize and bolster political movements. To this day, Riley proclaims himself to be a communist.
Staying true to their politically charged ethos, after the release of Genocide & Juice, the group took a four-year hiatus to focus on community building, zeroing in on the disparities they explored in their songs, proving that their content was indeed a true mantra rather than an adopted persona or a contrived veneer. In a 2012 interview with Tom Andes, Riley explained: “After Genocide & Juice some friends and I had started an organization called The Young Comrades. The Young Comrades broke down over stupid shit that a lot of radical organizations break down over. A group of people in the organization turned it into little more than a study group. I was like, ‘Fuck this, if [all] I’m going to be doing is putting out ideas, I might as well go back to putting them out in a much larger way.’”
At a concise 14 tracks, Genocide & Juice is one of the best sophomore efforts by any group, in any genre. Though released on Wild Pitch, it was one of those albums that received acclaim in subsequent years via word of mouth.
“While growing up in the ghetto my time went fast. See, I be stealing from the grown-ups, runnin’ from the tasks…”
In a 2012 interview, Riley explained the reasons behind his outlook and the impetus of the group’s consistent sound: “I mainly grew up in Oakland but I lived in Detroit until I was six. My older sister was living with us and she listened to the Ohio Players and Stevie Wonder, so I grew up listening to stuff like that.” Riley comes from a lineage of political activists. His father, Walter Riley, was an attorney and social justice organizer. Riley’s mother, who was also an overt activist, met Riley’s father at a student-led strike at San Francisco State University in the ’70s. At age 15, Riley joined the radical Progressive Labor Party.
We hear this acute political emphasis explored throughout the album, especially on “Takin’ These,” where historically stark concepts are laid out with elan. Over echoed snares, a young E-Roc declares: “Four hundred years ago fool where is my dough? The year is ’94 black folks ain’t taking it no mo…” In the music video, we see celebratory images of east Oakland neighborhoods followed by a scene where Riley comically chokes a white CEO character before dangling him off a balcony. It’s done with a comedic slant but is underscored with a real sense of truth and unease. On “Interrogation,” a later song on the album, Pointt Blankk Range starkly weaves a tale about being unfairly questioned and racially profiled, doubling down on his animus toward the police and the overall establishment: “Well I too took a beating from the boys in blue. And all cops watched like a Pay-Per-View.”
Riley and E-Roc, born Eric Davis, formed The Coup after meeting while working together at UPS. In addition, the group’s other pillar was Pam Warren, known as Pam the Funkstress, a renowned turntable queen from the Bay Area who made a name for herself in a field surrounded by mostly men. Joining the group in 1992, she was the replacement for DJO, the group’s first DJ, whose work can be heard on the aforementioned The EP. Despite being labeled as the group’s DJ, Pam loomed large behind the scenes, clearly a collaborator and integral to the group’s DNA. “She’s always involved,” Riley said in 2012 when asked about Pam. “I’ll play her the shit we have, and if there’s something she thinks is really terrible, it won’t make it on the album because I’ll feel guilty.”
In 2017, Pam died at age 51 following a transplant surgery. But she left a legacy that looms large in The Bay and beyond. She was even dubbed “Purple Pam” by Prince himself, who she DJ’d for on the final tour just before he passed. Pam’s given a soloist’s platform on Genocide & Juice, on “This One’s A Girl,” an interlude where she playfully cuts a bunch of exacting phrases. Expertly done to be sure, but the takeaway is how Pam exudes fun and isn’t overly technical. One of her signature moves was dubbed the “titty scratch,” a hilarious crowd-pleaser where she’d literally use her breasts to scratch records. While it may appear to be a novelty, especially coming from one of the rare women in the field, Pam did it with unique humor and aplomb — endearing at worst and unforgettable at best.
The presence of all three members is surely felt throughout the album. Riley would only improve from here, eventually penning classics like “Me and Jesus the Pimp in a ’79 Granada Last Night,” heard on 1998’s Steal This Album — and many of The Coup’s most popular songs, including “The Guillotine,” followed later in the 2000s and 2010s. Pam started a successful catering company while being a part of the group. E-Roc left The Coup following Genocide & Juice. After that, Pam and Riley anchored the group with a cadre of musicians for the remainder of their releases.
“I’m getting ammunition out the Pinto hatchback. Refer to this as Operation Snatchback…”
1994 was a juggernaut year for rap that saw the release of Nas’ Illmatic and The Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready To Die, masterworks that exist in exclusive tiers of their own. Yet there are many parallels between Genocide & Juice and what we heard from young Nasir and Christopher Wallace. Street narratives and stray observations, as well as troubling violence, dour conditions, angst and neighborhood pride largely define all three works. All have undeniably vivid instances of storytelling, couched in glowing soul samples with floods of imagery. All were young artists spewing such wise words despite still finding their way as young men in this world. On “Hip 2 tha Skeme,” for instance, Riley tersely explains: “I use my mouth where I lack muscle.”
There’s a famous picture from Oakland in the ’90s that depicts Tupac, E-40 and Riley standing together. In the polaroid, we see Pac in a bandana, famously worn backwards with the ends dangling on his forehead. We see E-40, tallest of them all, in circular spectacles, clad in an oversized flannel, a familiar look as the decade wore on. Pac was already a legend and 40 was a legend in the making. But Riley’s rise had just begun, a novice compared to the other two, whom he admittedly looked up to. He eventually transferred his storytelling prowess to another medium and locale, becoming a filmmaker in Hollywood.
In 2018, Riley made his directorial film debut to massive acclaim. The movie, Sorry to Bother You, starring LaKeith Stanfield, was a dark, surrealist comedy; it’s an absurdist, anti-capitalistic tale underscored by race, told through the perspective of an employee who changes his voice in an attempt to find success. The film is wrought with social and racial implications, a tightrope balance of both laughs and sobering moments. Riley, who also wrote the screenplay, leaned into his longtime love of political organization, depicting a cast of employees attempting to revolt against their company. In 2018, after a seven-year process, Sorry to Bother You premiered at Sundance to overwhelmingly glowing reviews.
There’s a clip of Riley performing a few years before the film premiered, where he does a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Can You Please Crawl Out Of Your Window?” A lesser-known Dylan cut, it’s a perfect choice given Riley’s penchant for constructing stories. It speaks about unreturned love between a mad scientist and his wide-eyed lover, with the protagonist begging his love: “Can you please crawl out your window? Use your arms and legs, it won’t ruin you.”
Dylan’s contemporary, a Canadian poet and musician named Leonard Cohen, also struck Riley as immensely important to his own growth as a writer. In a 2012 interview with EgoTripLand, Riley said this of Cohen’s poetic gifts: “I think I’ve always tried to balance a clever punchline that fits into stories I was telling and get some of my emotions in there too. But with Leonard Cohen, he approached writing with all feelings first. ... He has so many turns of phrase that need no punchline. He just paints emotional pictures in a single phrase … he was just raw emotion.”
Raw emotion, with an added sense of deliberateness, defines Genocide & Juice, an effort that is now nearly three decades old. Much like other timeless projects, especially ones with a foreseeing wisdom, topics concerning disillusionment and power imbalances will likely remain all too relevant. When asked about the making of Genocide & Juice, Riley once said: “Rappers are usually rapping about knowledge they think people need to get by in the world. If there’s no movement that gives the idea that the knowledge people need is how to take over the system, what they see is that people need to know how to hustle; people need to know how to survive.”
David Ma is a veteran music journalist whose work appears in Wax Poetics, NPR, The Paris Review, Billboard, The Guardian and elsewhere. He also teaches a course on hip-hop studies at San Jose State University and maintains Nerdtorious.com, a repository and remnant from the blog era. He writes from The Bay.
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