To hell with politics, let’s get it on

Two recent albums leave underground hip-hop’s usual content in favor of the booty

by Keri Carlson

Rapper Boots Riley and partner DJ Pam “The Funkstress” have made The Coup one of rap’s most politically charged groups. Taking their cues from the Black Panthers, Marx and hip hoppers Public Enemy, The Coup was designed to motivate activism.

But what is a group to do when its mentors leave the revolution for reality TV? Public Enemy member Flavor Flav shocked hip-hop purists with his VH1 show “Flavor of Love,” in which 20 ladies (ahem, skanks) fought for Flav’s love and dinners to Red Lobster.

It might seem like a sign we’ve all given up hope, and that could be partially true, but perhaps Flav was on to something. Can’t we be politically active and sexy at the same time?

On The Coup’s latest album, “Pick a Bigger Weapon,” Boots and Pam have not completely abandoned their politics, but the emphasis is less “take it to the streets” and more “take it to the bedroom.”

Over bouncy P-Funk bass lines, The Coup decide they would rather “laugh, love, fuck and drink liquor / And help the damn revolution come quicker.” Even on the most overtly political moment of the record, The Coup takes the tactic of undermining President George W. Bush by placing him in bed with Saddam Hussein in the song “Head (Of State)” – referring to a more, shall we say, Clintonian, kind of head.

Maybe it’s not the traditional Chuck D method of striving for change, but surely Flav’s way can’t make things any worse, right? The Coup opt for the motto “Baby let’s have a baby before Bush do somethin’ crazy.”

Underground or alternative hip-hop (in which The Coup are classified) often has little to do with a specific sound. The style is defined by its opposition to the mainstream – so where top-40 rap blings and booty shakes, underground rap preaches and sheds tears.

This is what makes the duo Spank Rock so unusual. Spank Rock does not address politics at all on their debut “YoYoYoYoYo,” just sex. Dirty, glitchy, bass-thumping beats with ass-obsessed lyrics make up 90 percent of the record (the other 10 is a tribute to producer Rick Rubin). But Spank Rock is not mainstream rap. While the music has just as much crunked-up rhythm and energy as, say, E-40 or Dem Franchize Boyz, Spank Rock’s ever shifting percussion and elements of electro clash and dance punk make them more comfortable in smaller clubs and college radio.

Although the group stays away from politics, for an underground group to focus so much attention on the body is, in its own way, radical.

The Coup and Spank Rock show that perhaps this separation between underground as symbolic of the mind and mainstream as symbolic of the body is just silly.

Even those of us who want change, and something beyond “My Humps,” aren’t above getting it on. And it’s OK for Public Enemy and “Flavor of Love” to be equally adored.