By Reed Fischer
By Anna Gulbrandsen
By Jeff Gage
By Stacy Schwartz
By Natalie Gallagher
By Erik Thompson
By Jeff Gage
By Loren Green
Steal this Album
WHAT WAS THE last really fun political hip-hop album you heard--you know, the one that doubled as a party record? Having a tough time? So did Roots Riley. In the liner notes to Steal this Album, Coup lyricist (and Oakland-area activist) Riley includes "Muthafuckas who think that just because they rhyme the same sound for a few bars they are 'deep'/'lyrical'/'flippin' the script'" among the album's "Creative Inspirations."
He's probably fed up with less-talented MCs standing in his spotlight, and he's got a point. Just listen to Steal this Album's amazing "Me and Jesus the Pimp in a '79 Granada Last Night," a deft combination of biblical allegory and underworld melodrama centered on the narrator's avenging of his mother's murder. Or "Fixation," where Riley spends four minutes rhyming every line with the title. Or check out "Sneakin' In," a delightful vignette detailing how Roots always attends concerts for free ("See me in the alley but, naw, I ain't no crack ho/I'm waitin' for my folks to open up the back do'").
Riley sounds like he's making up every one of these songs on the spot. In an era when most up-and-coming MCs (Canibus, Noriega, DMX) are all bark and no flow, Riley floats his conversational rhymes like Snoop Doggy Dogg discovering Langston Hughes. And he lays them atop bumping, '70s-style funk tracks, two-note sitar riffs, whomping blues harmonica, and blaxploitation-soundtrack strings. (Note the Commodores horn lines accompanying the silly chorus of "Piss on Your Grave": "Makes me feel alright! Yaa yaa yaa!")
All of which gets the Coup's Revolution Now message across a lot more convincingly than the humorless manifestos of the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. In an increasingly apolitical genre, these considered, angry reactions to the rot Riley sees around him strike a chord. In fact, Steal this Album may be the most flat-out likable insurrectionary hip-hop record ever recorded. Steal one.
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