Pick a Bigger Weapon

(Anti-/Epitaph; 2006)

By Mark Abraham | 10 July 2006

Yeah, the Glow’s been commiserating over the lack of good hip-hop thus far this year, and yet somehow we’ve ended with a bunch of really good albums, anyway. Audition, Fishscale, Mo’ Mega, and The King are still in my rotation, the Red Giants have been walking all over my face for the last couple of weeks, and though Food and Liquor has been pushed back ‘til August (get your copies of Touch the Sky, for reals), the Lupe train is rolling on. Mixtapes like Dedication 2 and Yet Another Clipse Thing are all awesome, and the universe is realigning itself. Except—what the fuck happened to the Coup?

So, basically, I thought Peter was doing it, and Peter thought Chet was doing it, and Chet though Clay was doing it, and Clay thought I was doing it, or something, and then Aaron was all, “Coup is good. Why haven’t we done this?” And then we all thought he was doing it, but so now I’m doing it, a couple months late. Sorry, Boots and Pam—we all really do like your album, and…uh…our bad.

We all like different things about it, too, but since I’m the one writing it up, I’m gonna start with “Laugh/Love/Fuck,” one of my favorite songs of the year. Boots is always more inflammatory when he’s got his performance on, and Pam’s rocking on the squeezed-synth blurps and funk bass, gospel delivery allowing him to roar as he brilliantly dissects the tension between revolution and personal gratification: “If I can’t change the world, I ain’t leaving / Baby, that’s the same reason you should call me this evening!” After the rollicking chorus, Boots drops one of the most politically charged cluster of lyrics ever—“I’m finna take shots and mark a mark / Not just take shots of Maker’s Mark / That’s how they make us marks”—and the compendium of political dissent and awareness laced into the puns of several different words in the measure makes my head twirl. It’s one of the stronger examples of the ability of Coup to map their goofy humor into a cogent political message. If the song didn’t roll on an overly-long outro, I’d be propping it for single honors later this year.

They aren’t always so successful. The weakest point of the album is the mid-section, where mildly humorous skits get transformed into full-out songs. The message of “Ass-Breath Killers” isn’t the problem; it’s the fact that the beat is kind of boring and I had to read the lyrics book before I realized Boots was citing Nat Turner, the French Revolution, Mao Tse Tung and the Bolsheviks. “Get that Monkey off Your Back” stalls on the same issues; the beats here aren’t as clever as elsewhere on the album, and the lyrics are the low-point of an album plied with gems.

Fortunately, there’s more than enough material to make up for this lull in the middle. “Captain Sterling’s Little Problem” may rely a bit too heavily on its thunderous chorus, but Boots keeps the politics of Army service in focus. Over winding guitars and moog runs, “Bullets and Love” creases its two contradictory concepts into a manifesto for the album, advising us there “ain’t no spectating” in the revolution. “We Are the Ones” has Boots donning a character voice, talking about dead friends, selling drugs to Yale students, and the exact process of moving from “have-nots” to “gon-gets.” The stop/start guitar riff the beat is built around allows him to punctuate his concluding clauses, and watch they way he goes nuts at the end of the second verse. “I Love Boosters” is a lovely paean to shoplifters who steal to support their families, it’s enthusiastic kick bumping louder and quicker over a Sesame Street reed section.

Even some of the more comical songs work well. “Head (of State)” starts off with a schoolyard chant, “Bush and Hussein together in bed / giving H-E-A-D: head / Y’all muthafuckas heard what we said / Billions made and millions dead.” It’s silly, totally, but the earnestness with which it’s delivered makes it work. “BabyLet’sHaveABabyBeforeBushDoSomethin’Crazy” is similarly pointed at our favorite president, and that the one ballad on the album is a beautifully (and sincerely) delivered vocal by Silk E. about the need to procreate before Bush nukes us all into oblivion is hilarious. While neither track implicitly interrogates the left with the giddy execution of “Laugh/Love/Fuck,” each breaks global politics apart into accessible bite-sized features that analyze the way such things trickle down into our personal lives.

“IJustWannaLayAroundAllDayInBedWithYou” is a masterful pop excursion for Coup; seductive, it begins as a trio of kick, electric piano and undulating bass. Boots dirty talks over top until a harmonica joins the music. Soaring strings, hand claps and drumming build up the beat. Like the other songs, the tension between love and bullets is carved apart when a martial voice begins yelling, “We come together / We respect each other / What time is it?” “My Favorite Mutiny” rocks off the most traditional beat on the album; here, Boots is joined by Black Thought and Talib Kweli. We’re quite divided on BT ‘round here; the elasticity that Nool notes “makes other rappers look clumsy” isn’t quite apparent on this track. Kweli’s verse, though, mangles complex verbiage and nouns into poignant political bombshells, and Boots’ own turn is his most immediate delivery on the album. “ShoYoAss” funks up the beat and gives Pam some room to scratch samples in the cracks.

The Bay Area duo have smoothed out their approach, sure, but in doing so they’re able to delve deeper into the politics of revolution, which is manned by real people in thrall of real desires which complement and contradict revolutionary goals. In making these songs more personal and more intimate, they’ve managed to make them more poignant, and even if the quality of the overall album doesn’t match the brilliance of the four or five phenomenal songs here, nothing is so cantankerous as to really offend. Pick a Bigger Weapon is really about picking up on those smaller observations—how we interact, how we view things personally, and how we can work together for change.