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Raymond Lawrence Riley (born April 1, 1971), better known by his stage name Boots Riley, is an American rapper, producer, screenwriter, film director, and activist. He is the lead vocalist of The Coup and Street Sweeper Social Club. His feature-film directorial debut, Sorry to Bother You (2018), which he also wrote, was released in July 2018.
Riley in 2010
Raymond Lawrence Riley
April 1, 1971
|Website||Boots Riley on Tumblr|
Riley was born in 1971  into a family of social justice organizers in Chicago. He is the son of Anitra Patterson and Walter Riley, an attorney. His father and maternal grandfather are African-American, while his maternal grandmother was a German Jewish refugee from Königsberg, who fled Europe with her parents as a teenager in 1938. By the time he was six, the family moved to Detroit and then to Oakland. His interest in politics began at a young age, inspiring him to join the International Committee Against Racism at age 14 and the radical Progressive Labor Party at age 15.
In 1991, Riley founded the political hip hop group The Coup with a fellow United Parcel Service worker E-roc. Pam the Funkstress, DJ for the group, joined in 1992. Riley was chief lyric writer and produced the music on the albums. They released a song on a 1991 compilation album called Dope Like a Pound or a Key along with fellow former UPS worker Spice-1 and future Thug Life member Mopreme Shakur, then known as Mocedes. The album was released on Wax That Azz Records, which was owned by Pierre "The Beat Fixer" James, Too Short's DJ.
In 1991, he and other hip hop artists created the Mau Mau Rhythm Collective. They put on "Hip-Hop Edutainment Concerts" which allied with and promoted the campaigns of community-based organizations like Women's Economic Agenda Project (WEAP), Copwatch, International Campaign To Free Geronimo Pratt, and the Black Panther Alumni Association. The Mau Mau Rhythm Collective was actively involved in the campaign to stop the FBI's "Weed And Seed" program (which was used in the '60s in conjunction with CoIntelPro) from coming to Oakland. They used the growing popularity of their concerts to bring a large number of youth to take over a closed Oakland city council meeting and hold a public meeting.
In 1992, The Coup signed to Wild Pitch Records/EMI. The group released their debut album Kill My Landlord in 1993. Two singles from that album, "Dig It" and "Not Yet Free", received play on BET, Yo! MTV Raps, and mix shows on national Black radio.
Also, in 1993, E-40 released the video for "Practice Lookin' Hard". It was a song based around Riley's lyric, "I got a mirror in my pocket and I practice lookin' hard", from the song "Not Yet Free" on Kill My Landlord. The video featured Boots Riley singing the chorus while he, Tupac Shakur, and E-40 reflected light into the camera from a handheld mirror while dancing around.
In 1994, The Coup released their second album, Genocide & Juice. It featured guest appearances by E-40 and Spice-1. Fueled by video play and some radio play for the single "Fat Cats And Bigga Fish", the album shot up the charts, but stalled when EMI suddenly absorbed Wild Pitch. At this point, E-roc left The Coup on amicable terms.
1998's Steal This Album, released on indie label Dogday Records, was called "a masterpiece of slow-rolling West Coast funk" by Rolling Stone magazine. The single from that album, "Me And Jesus The Pimp In a ‘79 Granada Last Night", was an eight-minute song about the grown-up son of a prostitute driving his mother’s killer to a secluded place in which to murder him. A novel, Too Beautiful For Words by Monique W. Morris, based on the story characters and descriptions in the song, was published by HarperCollins in 2000. The album also featured a guest appearance by Del The Funky Homosapien on the track "The Repo Man Sings for You".
The group's fourth album, Party Music, was released on 75 Ark Records in 2001. It was re-released in 2005 by Epitaph Records. The original cover art depicted group members standing in front of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center as they explode. Riley is depicted pushing a button on a bass guitar tuner and DJ Pam the Funkstress is shown holding conductor's wands. The photo was taken in May 2001. The album was scheduled to be released just after the September 11, 2001 attacks. In response to the uncanny similarity of the artwork with the attacks, the album release was delayed until an alternative cover could be prepared. The album hit #8 in the 2001 Village Voice Pazz and Jop Poll- the most important year-end critic's list, was named "Pop Album Of The Year" by the Washington Post, and "Hip-Hop Album Of The Year" by Rolling Stone. The album included a guest appearance by dead prez on the song "Get Up." Boots Riley released a controversial press release one week after the 9/11 events, which was later published in the book, Another World Is Possible. The press release stated that "last week's events were symptomatic of a larger backlash against U.S. corporate imperialism." The controversy surrounding the cover art, press release, and the lyrics from Party Music (specifically the song "5 Million Ways To Kill A CEO") led to Riley appearing on local network news affiliates all over the U.S. He also appeared on Fox News's Hannity and Colmes and ABC's Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher. During this time, conservative commentator Michelle Malkin called Boots's lyrics "a stomach-turning example of anti-Americanism disguised as highbrow intellectual expression". The Independent concluded it was "protest album of the year, by a million-man march."
That same year, Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello invited Riley to be part of the "Tell Us the Truth Tour". The tour was meant to shed light on the monopolization of the media and the coming FTAA agreements. It featured acoustic performances by Riley, Morello, Billy Bragg, Steve Earle, Mike Mills and Jill Sobule. It was hosted by Janeane Garofalo and Naomi Klein.
In 2006, The Coup released Pick a Bigger Weapon on Epitaph Records. The album was named "Album Of The Year" by Associated Press. It featured guest appearances by Tom Morello, Talib Kweli, Black Thought from The Roots, and Jello Biafra.
In 2007 and 2008, Riley toured heavily with New Orleans-based band Galactic. The band performed Coup songs behind Riley's vocals and they also performed their collaboration, "Hustle Up". In 2008, while performing with Galactic in Norfolk, VA, police interrupted the concert and Riley was charged with "public profanity"- a charge that had, until then, never been used in its 26 years of existence.
Back in 2006, Morello approached Riley to form a band together under the name Street Sweeper. The duo who later changed their name to Street Sweeper Social Club, releasing their self-titled debut album in 2009. They toured in support of it along with Nine Inch Nails and the recently reunited Jane's Addiction. Two songs, "100 Little Curses" and "Promenade", from their self-titled debut received rotation on Rock radio in major markets. On May 24, a press release went out announcing Street Sweeper Social Club as one of the headliners of the 2010 Rock the Bells tour. Street Sweeper Social Club released The Ghetto Blaster EP in late July 2010.
In 2010 and 2011, Boots Riley recorded with Ursus Minor again on I Will Not Take "But" for an Answer and toured with the group in France.
When E-Roc left The Coup in 1994, Riley decided to stop making music in favor of forming an organization called The Young Comrades, with a few other radical, black community organizers. The organization mounted a few important campaigns in Oakland which yielded some minor victories, such as the campaign against Oakland's "no cruising" ordinance.
In 2000, Riley, through his workshop on Art and Organizing at La Peña Cultural Center, led a group of young artists to create "Guerilla Hip-Hop Concerts" on a flatbed truck which traveled throughout Oakland to protest California’s Proposition 21. The workshop also distributed tens of thousands free cassettes of "The Rumble", which he called "newspapers on tape".
In 2002, Riley taught a daily high school class, "Culture and Resistance: Persuasive Lyric Writing", at the School of Social Justice and Community Development in East Oakland.
with The CoupEdit
- Kill My Landlord (1993)
- Genocide & Juice (1994)
- Steal This Album (1998)
- Party Music (2001)
- Pick a Bigger Weapon (2006)
- Sorry to Bother You (2012)
with Street Sweeper Social ClubEdit
- Street Sweeper Social Club (2009)
- 1991 – Dope Like a Pound or a Key (Compilation)
- 1994 – "Streets of Oakland" from The Big Badass by Ant Banks
- 1994 – Zugzwang by Ursus Minor
- 2004 – "5 Million Ways to Kill a CEO" from Axis of Justice: Concert Series Volume 1
- 2007 – "Hustle Up" from From the Corner to the Block by Galactic
- 2009 – "Soledad" from Este Mundo by Rupa & the April Fishes
- 2011 – "M M M", "Get On With It" from I Will Not Take "But" for an Answer by Ursus Minor
- 2011 – "9/11 'til Infinity" from From the Dumpster to the Grave by Star Fucking Hipsters
- 2011 – "Black Flags" (Single) by Atari Teenage Riot
- 2014 – "Pocket Full of Slave owners" (Single) by Muja Messiah
- 2014 – "Black Is Beltza" (Single) by Fermin Muguruza
- "Boots Riley on How His Hit Movie "Sorry to Bother You" Slams Capitalism & Offers Solutions". DemocracyNow!. July 17, 2018. 17:50 minutes in. Retrieved July 26, 2018.
- Kelley, Robin D.G. (2018). "Sorry, not Sorry". bostonreview.net. The Boston Review. Retrieved September 13, 2018.
- Kelley, Robin D. G. (11 September 2018). "Sorry, Not Sorry". Boston Review. Retrieved 14 February 2019.
- Weiner, Jonah (May 22, 2018). "How Boots Riley Infiltrated Hollywood". The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved May 23, 2018.
- "Boots Riley: Activism Before Art". PULSE Magazine. 2019-02-20. Retrieved 2019-09-19.
- Cook, Dave (1996). "Should rap artist run for political office?". daveyd.com. Archived from the original on January 11, 2017. Retrieved January 11, 2017.
- "E-40's 'Practice Lookin' Hard' – Discover the Sample Source". WhoSampled. Retrieved January 11, 2017.
- E40VEVO (November 24, 2009), E-40 – Practice Lookin' Hard, retrieved January 11, 2017
- "Coup de grace". The Rep. The Arizona Republic. December 9, 1999. p. 51. Retrieved January 11, 2017 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Album cover of WTC blast pulled". CNN.com. Archived from the original on November 13, 2001. Retrieved July 9, 2018.
- "The Coup Cover Art". Snopes. Retrieved July 9, 2018.
- Malkin, Michelle (December 30, 2001). "Stop giving America a bad rap". Townhall. Archived from the original on January 11, 2017. Retrieved January 11, 2017.
- "Album: The Coup". Independent. November 9, 2001. Retrieved July 24, 2018.
- Riley, B. [BootsRiley] (August 23, 2014). 4those watching The Simpsons marathon: Episode 9 of Season 16, "Pranksta Rap" is scored by me. I did not write those raps tho. Twitter
- Pollard, Mark. "An Interview w/ Boots of the Coup". daveyd.com. Archived from the original on January 11, 2017. Retrieved January 11, 2017.
We had a flatbed truck and basically make it into a stage and we’d get rappers and we’d drive around neighborhoods and do a show – guerilla theatre. We’d called them guerilla hip hop concerts.
- "Usa, tensione tra sindacati e Ows", Peace Reporter, December 14, 2011.