Referring to police brutality, gender and racial inequity, and most decidedly, the shortcomings of capitalism, The Coup aims to stir up an unforgettable, political earworm for listeners to act out against these intersecting societal injustices.
Boots Riley and The Coup have redefined the concept of the traditional hip hop party album as mindless dance music to become a political encapsulation of listeners’ emotional state. In this, Sorry To Bother You: The Soundtrack provides socially conscious jams to simultaneously enlighten about and distract from the issues of today.
The soundtrack excels in aligning with the overarching contexts of its namesake movie while separating itself from the constraints of specific characters, storylines, and symbols — a feat necessary for soundtracks to avoid getting dragged down by the success or failure of their associated films. These shared contexts become the political backbone of the soundtrack as a stand-alone album, enforcing thoughtful lyricism in every track. Referring to police brutality, gender and racial inequity, and most decidedly, the shortcomings of capitalism, The Coup aims to stir up an unforgettable, political earworm for listeners to act out against these intersecting societal injustices.
An album is only as good as its stand-out records, and an album that sets out to move the mind as well as the body heightens the challenge to successfully fashion a hit song. Nevertheless, the best tracks on this album find success not as banging party anthems but as well-crafted grooves with emotive and commanding messages. The songs of Sorry To Bother You: The Soundtrack address three themes referred to in “Hey Saturday Night”: “Lust, revolution, and love—the holy trinity.”
“Anitra’s Basement Tapes” is the unmistakable love song of the album, with synths and a steady, melodic narration by frontman Riley straight out of an 80’s cult classic. The extensive outro builds up the passion of its listeners as Jolie Holland offers her choral vocalizations to express the lovelorn lyrics, “I wanna crush my loneliness into dust / Please ride with me until this whole thing busts.” While the song doesn’t seem to fit in with the album’s political intentions as a whole, “Anitra’s Basement Tapes” is an essential track, providing a cinematic element with a hint of realism when stating that even the hopelessness of the world’s end provides an opportunity for happiness in love.
To accompany, “Whathegirlmuthafuckinwannadoo” addresses the realities of gender relations following the love story. Rather than glaze over an ideal outcome from sexuality, The Coup answers the question of lust from a modern perspective of gender inequity. Janelle Monáe is featured perfectly in her element, crooning, “You never wanted a partner, partna / You just want an assistant.” Through sexy, female-headed vocals and smooth instrumentals, The Coup reinterprets the ‘baby-making’ standard in hip hop (a la Boyz 2 Men) and presents the value of women in society as just as much a hard-hitting issue as economics and race.
“Crawl Out the Water” exemplifies The Coup’s intention to harmonize the concepts of party and activism through revolution, providing a closing funk jam to translate and relate the collective’s political concerns to partygoers. “Crawl Out the Water” is a fascinating choice to close out the album — the song is one of the lightest, funkiest dance songs on the album, externally appearing benign yet portraying the deepest lyrics regarding revolution. Just because The Coup has something important to say, they don’t need to overwhelm the listener with an emotional melody — they can still have fun without stripping themselves bare. Riley sharply raps, “Land of the free-but-can’t-quite-afford / Stars in the sky, but the light is yours,” critiquing a state of capitalist class entrapment in current American society. The Coup incites an uprising against familiar suppressive forces through the extended metaphor of evolution and ‘crawling out the water’ into a new powerful form.
Sorry to Bother You: The Soundtrack embodies this holy thematic trinity through these stand-out records and more, realizing for the future of hip hop a new angle of inter-album song relation. These tracks aren’t explicitly about love, lust, or revolution, but rather an amalgamation of the three. Boots Riley and The Coup excel in their musical destiny to transcend not only party music and political anthems but also the conventions of the movie soundtrack, creating an equally enjoyable and enlightening experience for all listening.