And after September 11, many of us were impressed as Boots gracefully applied his rhetoric. In a remarkable coincidence, Boots' album, Party Music, which was going to press the day before the accident, featured a (fake) photo of the World Trade Center blowing up. While the press lambasted him for promoting violence and terrorism, Boots stood by the cover, using it to speak out against America's war for oil. The album also defended itself with political party music, like "5 Million Ways to Kill a CEO." As Boots told us in the song "Ride the Fence": "I'm anti-imperial/anti-trust/anti-gun/if the shit won't bust/anti-corporate, they anti-my essence/anti-snortin' them anti-depressants."
There are a lot of things to love about Boots Riley. But then last Wednesday happened.
Outside the Crystal Ballroom, where Boots and The Coup were playing, I saw their huge tour bus. On its side, in yellow, faux-graffiti writing, the bus advertised the SoBe "Adrenaline Tour." The Adrenaline Tour features The Coup, the X-Ecutioners, and Kenny Muhammad, and has been all over the nation in the last few months.
Once inside, things didn't improve. DJ Pam wasn't there due to "circumstances beyond her control," as Boots explained it, and though they played a lot of hits off the new album, the music was too fast, consequently sounding somewhat like rap metal. The guitar player did a rock solo of the national anthem. Ironic? Probably, but it seemed lost on most of the crowd. All in all, it wasn't Boots' best show.
But the most controversial part of the evening were the SoBe-sponsored "extreme sport" videos being projected onto a large screen after Boots played. Also on hand were a handful of dudes wearing SoBe polo shirts, and SoBe "girls"--hot, waify chicks dressed in nurse uniforms. They were handing out "extreme sport" paraphernalia, like snowboards and posters.
The crowd had a mixed reaction to SoBe's corporate presence; some people pushed their way to the front to compete for prizes; others, like myself, sulkily hung back. Someone put their hands in front of the projector and flipped the double bird, casting a shadow over the screen. Someone else threw a shoe at the stage.
Months ago, when I first heard Boots was on the SoBe tour, I emailed Chris Funk (Boots' manager) to ask about the unusual partnering between an anti-corporate rapper and one of the world's biggest beverage distributors.
"Yes, we are doing that tour," Chris explained. But "we do not endorse SoBe. It's no different than House of Blues presents, which is funded by Coors, Clear-Com, and Sirrus." Chris seemed to be under the impression that SoBe's presence at Boots' show would be minimal, and that Boots' music could remain separate from the corporate image of SoBe.
"Plus, we think it's going to be fun if the shit gets cheesy to have Boots being in the mix," Chris reassured me. "Don't worry, we have in no way sold The Coup out."
But watching Boots on the stage with SoBe signs all over, seeing the giant tour bus and paraphernalia being handed out to the crowd, it was hard to separate Boots' message from SoBe's endorsement--even when Boots took a break to talk about the necessity of political activism and the U.S.'s murder of innocent children in Afghanistan and Nicaragua.
It's not that I blame Boots, exactly. It's hard to be a musician, and there's something to be said for taking the money of corporate America and using it to stir shit up. Hell, the Mercury's got a giant cigarette ad right over on page 20. As Chris pointed out, he's not heard of any nationally known band except for Fugazi that tours without corporate backing. Yet it still makes me question my idyllic image of at least one individual who is leading a righteous, corporate-fighting life. Now I wonder if that is even possible.