Oakland hip-hop from 1993 was on my mind recently, what with YBCA's recent Clas/Sick Hip-Hop: 1993 Edition and talking with curator Marc Bamuthi Joseph about his five favorite hip-hop songs of the year.
In the midst of thinking about that hallowed year, I kept an informal running list of Bay Area rap albums released in 1993. The unfinished list, incomplete as it is, is still pretty staggering:
The Coup – Kill My Landlord
Souls of Mischief – '93 til Infinity
The Click – Down & Dirty
E-40 - Federal
Too Short – Get In Where You Fit In
Mac Dre – Young Black Brotha
Dre Dog – The New Jim Jones
Del the Funkee Homosapien – No Need for Alarm
I.M.P. - Back in the Days
Mac Mall – Illegal Business
2Pac – Strictly 4 my N.I.G.G.A.Z.
DJ Shadow – Entropy 12”
Totally Insane – Goin' Insane
Digital Underground – The Body-Hat Syndrome
Spice 1 – 187 He Wrote
Conscious Daughters – Ear to the Street
Total Devastation – S/T
Ant Banks – Sittin' on Somethin' Phat
Dru Down – Fools From the Street
JT the Bigga Figga – Playaz in the Game
RhythmX – Long Overdue
Cold World Hustlers – Cold Streets
Capital Tax – The Swoll Package
San Quinn – Don't Cross Me
D-Bone – Black Man
Herm – Trying to Survive in the Ghetto
Seagram – The Dark Roads
Looking back, artists like Tupac and DJ Shadow would go on to worldwide fame; others, like San Quinn and Dre Dog, remain mostly local phenomena to this day. But if you had to pick the smartest, most politically minded album from the bunch? By far, it's the Coup's Kill My Landlord.
Take, for example, opening track “Dig It!,” which begins by referencing The Communist Manifesto, Che Guevara, Kwame Nkrumah, the Black Power salute, cuts in welfare, the numbing power of television, and President George H.W. Bush's policy on Haitian refugees. And that's all before the first chorus hits—all in all, a hell of an introductory verse on a debut album.
Can you imagine being a teenager in the midwest in 1993, the year Eric Clapton swept the Grammys with “Tears in Heaven” and Beauty and the Beast was inescapable, and coming across this?
I mention this not as a nostalgic look back, but to illuminate just how powerfully the Coup arrived out of the gate. Musically, the band has changed with every album, while lyrically staying relevant as ever. Moreover, in conquering the obstacles over the years—from their World Trade Center-themed cover art being pulled for 2001's Party Music, to their tour bus overturning and catching on fire, to being officially watched by surveillance agents—the Coup has only emerged stronger.
They've also stuck to an addictive combination of smart lyrics and physically liberating, get-down funk, which is on full display Jan. 23 at the Independent. To see frontman Boots Riley lead his live band is to witness a master at work; even his dance moves come across with a confrontational subtext. The Coup's most recent album, Sorry to Bother You, available to stream here, precedes the screenplay of the same name by Riley, which was recently released in McSweeny's Issue 48.
Naturally, the story's set in the city that's referenced in the last line of "Dig It!": Oakland, California, 94610.