A few months ago, Katia Dunn wrote an editorial questioning the motives of The Coup--a staunchly political hiphop band--for playing on a tour sponsored by SoBe, a soft drink corporation. In essence, she wondered if The Coup compromised the anti-corporate ethics they preach by agreeing to go on a tour with the SoBe logo stamped all over it, and whether it is even possible to live corporate-free in our increasingly globalized, corporate-centric world. What follows is a letter to Katia from Boots Riley, lead MC in The Coup, responding to Katia's article. Boots and The Coup will be in town Wed, Aug 7, at Berbati's Pan. --arts ed.
From: Boots Riley
Subject: Did I sell out?
First of all, to say I sold out could imply that there was a financial gain on my part for doing the tour. So let's get that question out of the way--In fact, after expenses, I was budgeted to receive a whopping $100 per show. This is with merchandising figured in--minus food expenses. That makes it a whole $2800 for 40 days work. As is usually the case, the tour went over budget, so I got far less than that.
This is not for you to feel sorry for me, but to erase implication of money as the motivating factor behind me being on the tour.
The value of the tour for The Coup had to do with being able to open up for The X-ecutioners (the headliners), who have a song with Linkin Park, and are getting all kinds of commercial radio play and a video all over MTV. What does that mean for The Coup? An audience. Add to that the fact that 90 percent of the cities that were on the tour were places that we've never been able to play in our 10-year tenure, and you see that the exposure was the motivating factor.
Still, Did I Sell Out?
Your answer might be yes, if you didn't understand how the media works. The function of commercial radio, MTV, BET, and commercial press is to sell Coke, Levi's, and Ford (after selling you other lies). These media outlets are so much a part of our everyday lives, that we forget to think of them as corporate sponsored. I want The Coup to be all over commercial media. As a matter of fact, when we did get commercial airplay, there were many times that people heard Pepsi or beer commercials right after bobbing their heads to "Fat Cats, Bigga Fish." Should I have taken the song out of rotation? When our videos used to get a lot of rotation on BET (and a little on MTV), commercials came on before and after our videos.
Should I have told them not to play the video? Since our beginning, there have been shows and festivals that The Coup has done that were sponsored by corporations selling products. We opened up for the European Puff Daddy tour in 2000, I don't know who sponsored that, but I'm sure some corporation did.
In all these instances, we were used as fodder for corporate greed. See, The Coup was created with the mainstream in mind, to maybe get through to people that only buy their music at Wal-Mart, or that would never have picked up a "political" album. I've never told people that I thought you could escape working for the capitalists while we still have capitalism, I've always said the only way to escape capitalism is to overthrow it, violently.
That takes a mass movement. I can't help that happen by talking to myself.
It's unfortunate that we don't have the resources to create an alternative media structure to funnel our music through. But we've never been in front of this many people on a non-corporate tour, and we've been doing it for a while.
Being on a corporate-sponsored tour (SoBe Adrenaline Tour, Vans Warped Tour, Budweiser Superfest) or media (MTV, BET, radio, Portland Mercury) is totally different from endorsing a product. When a Budweiser ad plays right after The Coup's video on MTV, people know I'm not saying to drink Bud. When SoBe has their advertisements hanging around the venue, people know I'm not endorsing any product. I would never do that and have passed up many lucrative offers (most recently, Interview offered a big spread in their magazine if we would take some pictures wearing Levi's, who was sponsoring them in some way). I understand that it wouldn't just be me endorsing the product (bad enough), but the ideas that I represent would be seemingly endorsing the product, too.
Did I sell out?
Our first two albums were on EMI records (a major multinational corporation), our third was on an indie (capitalist pigs, no less), and our latest--Party Music, in stores now, while supplies last--was released by a subsidiary of TimeWarner (you know who they are). If having my art tied in with major corporations and funneling it through commercial media means I sold out, then it's been that way since Fall 1992 when I signed my first contract.