Pick a Bigger Weapon
Record Review by Adam McKibbin
The world can be a real drag when you have your eyes open. Active protesters and armchair politicians alike can easily suffocate in disillusionment, rage, and/or helplessness. Boots Riley and Pam the Funkstress, the twin engines of funk hip-hoppers The Coup, are fighting those battles, too, but they remind their listeners that it’s okay to put societal ills on the back burner from time to time—just so long as they stay on the stove.
While there is a spine of 70s funk and Parliament-Funkadelic love running throughout the album, the tone of the beats and vocal melodies varies dramatically from song to song. For all of its political heft, Pick A Bigger Weapon works pretty well as a straight-up good-time album, with the two sides intersecting brilliantly on standout “ShoYoAss,” which blends call-to-arms lyrics with an irresistible call-to-the-dance-floor beat.
The slow-down love and lust jams are just a teeny bit off the mark, showing an over-reliance on repetition, but do provide an extra layer of interest. The electric guitar squeal and falsetto come-on of “I Just Wanna Lay Around All Day In Bed With You” would do Prince proud, while “Baby Let’s Have a Baby Before Bush Do Somethin’ Crazy” is, at the very least, practically a lock for the year’s best song title. Silk E provides an appropriately raw R&B vocal on the latter, but it would have been considerably improved if they could have written a few extra verses instead of recycling the same one.
Hard-liners will want to cut out a number of zanier tracks (and skits) from Pick A Bigger Weapon, focusing instead on pavement-pounding beats like “My Favorite Mutiny,” when the activities of the cartoonishly merry “Laugh / Love / Fuck” are all replaced with a starker and more strident mission: “ ‘Death to the pigs’ is my basic statement,” Riley spits, before going on to namedrop Rosa Parks, Ricky Ross and Gil Scott-Heron. Tom Morello adds a guest star guitar riff to “Captain Sterling’s Little Problem,” which encourages military defectors over the angriest and most discordant backdrop on the album.
“My Favorite Mutiny” also marks one misstep. Atop its best-case-scenario potential to inspire and mobilize, another charm of politically-minded hip-hop is that it tends to view the world in terms of “us vs. them” instead of the typical “me me me me.” Guest MC Talib Kweli reverts to that tired formula, likening himself to Huey P. Newton and reminding listeners that he “came in the game with a new way to spit.” Actually, it’s a testament to The Coup that this self-aggrandizing line smells foul in this particular Everyman environment. Aside from the deliberately dumb nursery rhyme anthem on “Head (of State),” Pick A Bigger Weapon is sharply written—even “Head (of State)” drops some essential Cliffs Notes history for those who may have been tuned out. The synopsis of Pick A Bigger Weapon as a whole? Fight on—but don’t forget to party on, too.
More by this writer:
Anti-Flag - Interview
Tanya Morgan - Interview
Casual - Interview
Howard Zinn - Readings from Voices of A People's History of the United States [DVD]