Boots Riley is a Marxist. This can be substantiated by nearly every stanza of every song he’s recorded. He usually turns his political messages into hip-hop bangers under the apt moniker The Coup, but on Sorry to Bother You (which conveniently drops a week before the presidential election), Riley trades boom-bap for the live instrumentation of a full-fledged backing band. He’s still railing against police, pimps, and presidents, but he’s got a whole new set of sounds behind him.
On “Strange Arithmetic”, Riley demands education reform: “Teachers, stand up/ You need to tell us how to flip this system.” Fuzzy guitars and dance-beats (think OutKast’s funk-rock-rap fusion) soundtrack his rants, and songs such as “Land of 7 Billion Dances” and “The Guillotine” share that pointed aggression.
If those tracks are impassioned protests, then “Violet” and “This Year” are pleas for change from the very bottom of Riley’s heart. Riley sincerely believes what he preaches about correcting the hegemonic malaise that’s swallowed America. He often cites the status quo of urban decay and social imbalance bred by capitalism, like on his manifesto, “We’ve Got A Lot to Teach You, Cassius Green”. His lyrics— about the monsters (CEOs, the 1%) and the creatures they command (everyone else)— are metaphorical, but it’s clear what he’s insinuating with lines like, “The beast who was frothing between his tusks said / ‘They work it, we run it/ they shouldn’t fuss.’”
Sorry to Bother You may not earn many new subscribers to Marxism, but it does yield an appreciation for the ideology and an understanding of why Riley feels that a revolution is the only way to derail capitalism. He validates his beliefs while simultaneously crafting an inspired rap-fusion record. In that respect, Sorry to Bother You is both a musical and argumentative success.
Essential Tracks: “Strange Arithmetic”, “Violet”, “We’ve Got A Lot to Teach You, Cassius Green”