The Coup

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Boots Riley

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Bullseye
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Boots Riley

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Boots Riley on the Transition from Music to Film and the Role of Art in Revolution

Boots Riley is the frontman and founder of the legendary hip-hop collective The Coup. The group produced simple music - the beats never had a lot of frills. When he rapped, Boots spoke plainly about stories from his real life. But it was in a really compelling, passionate way. He talked about social justice, poverty, racism and the stuff people do just to get by. A lot of hip-hop is about prosperity - overcoming a system that's been rigged against you for centuries. The Coup, however, wanted to throw the system out entirely.

Boots was born Raymond Lawrence Riley. He grew up in Oakland, California. His parents were political, working actively in the NAACP and the Progressive Labor Party and Boots wanted to carry on that tradition in art.

He went to film school at first, but eventually found his calling in hip-hop. Along with his friend E-Roc, he founded the hip-hop band The Coup in 1991.

About six years ago, Boots started working on a movie - something he'd never really done before. He started telling his friends about it, asking acquaintances in the industry for advice - sometimes he'd just corner a producer for 15 minutes. Thanks to a combination of audacity, determination, and luck, the finished product is hitting theaters next month.

The movie is called "Sorry to Bother You." It's set in Oakland, in kind of an alternate reality. Lakeith Stanfield stars in it. He plays Cassius Green, a black man who gets a gig doing telemarketing. It's in that job he finds the key to success: do a dead-on impression of a white dude and magically, people listen when you call. From there, it gets weirder. There's elements of science fiction, horror, and more and it's out in theaters July 6.

Boots tells Jesse about the recent passing of former Coup member and DJ Pam the Funkstress, The Coup's origin story, and why he doesn't think art alone can start a revolution.

Click here to listen to Boots Riley's interview on YouTube.


Photo Courtesy of Legacy/Columbia/ Sony Music Entertainment Inc.

Outshot: M'Boom

Jazz drummer Max Roach founded the percussion ensemble "M'Boom" in 1970. He wanted to explore the possibilities of percussion, but it was also a socio-political statement.

Roach saw the drum set as the quintessential American instrument, borrowing hand drums from Africa and the native people of North America, snares and bass drums from Europe, and cymbals from the middle east.

M'Boom embraced an international spirit - and particularly the African diaspora spirit. As an African American, Roach was aware of the way his people had been disconnected from their historical-cultural context by slavery. M'Boom was an act of reconnection.

Click here to listen to Jesse's Outshot on M'Boom on YouTube.

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Forest Whitaker and Armando Iannucci

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Show: 
Bullseye
Guests: 
Forest Whitaker
Guests: 
Armando Iannucci

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Photo: Kris Connor/Getty Images

Forest Whitaker on playing Desmond Tutu in his new movie "The Forgiven"

Forest Whitaker has been acting for over thirty years now and has won award after award including the Academy Award for best actor for his role as Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland." He has a knack for taking huge figures from history and portraying them as complex, fascinating, and sometimes really fragile people. He played Charlie Parker in "Bird." He played Cecil Gaines, the White House butler in "The Butler." Now, he's starring as Archbishop Desmond Tutu in the new film "The Forgiven," directed by Roland Joffe, who also made the classic 1984 film "The Killing Fields."

"The Forgiven" takes place in South Africa, just after apartheid. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is in full swing- holding public and private testimony from the victims and perpetrators of past wrongs. Archbishop Tutu was the chairman of the commission, appointed by Nelson Mandela himself.

Whitaker chats with Jesse about Tutu's struggle to love the most heinous of criminals and how he himself struggles to love people that have hurt him. He talks about the origin of his movie "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai" and what he learned about acting while playing the title role. He also explains why he stands by his movie "Battlefield Earth" - despite the many haters ready to poke fun about how bad the film was.

Click here to listen to Forest Whitaker's interview on YouTube.


Photo: Tara Ziemba/Getty Images

Armando Iannucci on his new movie "The Death of Stalin"

Armando Iannucci is a writer and director who created the HBO TV series "Veep," which has won seventeen Emmy Awards. He also created the BBC political comedy "The Thick of It," which later spun off into the move "In the Loop." He specializes in finding comedy in broken political systems and the bureaucrats who run them. He's found most of his material in the people who run democracies - UK cabinet ministers and presidential wannabes.

His latest project is called "The Death of Stalin." The film is set in Russia in 1953. Josef Stalin is dying from a cerebral hemorrhage and there's a power struggle brewing among members of his advising committee. He says the film is about five terrible people who pretty much all think they're fighting the good fight. The characters are all classic Iannucci: they're ambitious, chaotic and all deeply insecure. They betray one another at every turn, then feign concern and friendship when it's politically convenient.

He'll talks to Jesse about how this new movie took him out of his comfort zone, the fascinating stories he gathered from survivors of Stalin's regime, and why doing satire nowadays is harder than ever.

Click here to listen to Armando Iannucci's interview on YouTube.


Photo: Joe Brusky via Flickr Creative Commons

The Outshot: "The Coup"

Oakland's "The Coup" stand out among the greats of hip-hop's golden age of the late 80's and early 90's. They are standard bearers of that period's mix of politics, humanity, and humor.

Click here to listen to Jesse's Outshot on The Coup on YouTube.

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Roman Mars and Boots Riley, Live at SF Sketchfest

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Show: 
Bullseye
Guests: 
Roman Mars
Guests: 
Boots Riley
Guests: 
Steve Agee
Guests: 
Peter Hartlaub

New to Bullseye? Subscribe to the show in iTunes or via the RSS feed, or check out our SoundCloud page to share any or all of these interviews or recommendations!

This week, a live recording of Bullseye, held at the Punchline Comedy Club as part of SF Sketchfest.


From 1978's Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Peter Hartlaub Recommends San Francisco on Film: "The Conversation" and "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"

The San Francisco Chronicle's pop culture critic, Peter Hartlaub, joins us to share some of his favorite San Francisco films.

He recommends Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation for its realistic depiction of San Francisco, as well as the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which, in spite of its terrifying story, might give San Francisco's public transit planners some food for thought.

Peter Hartlaub writes for the San Francisco Chronicle and blogs about pop culture at The Big Event.

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Roman Mars on 99% Invisible, Public Media and Crowd-Funding

You'd think that it'd be almost impossible to tell stories about architecture and design in a completely invisible medium, but Roman Mars makes it work. The public radio host and producer's stories show that design is everywhere – he's produced stories about the unintentional music of escalators, failed prison designs, and reclusive monks who make the best beer in the world.

These stories are all a part of 99% Invisible, "a tiny radio show about design" that Roman hosts and produces. The show is truly tiny; it airs for only five minutes on a handful of public radio stations, including KALW. But the podcast is another story. Episodes of the podcast version of 99% Invisible are longer and more detailed – and they reach a much larger audience. Last year, Roman led a massive Kickstarter campaign to fund the show's third season. Fans gave more than $170,000, making it the most successful journalism Kickstarter to date.

Roman joins Jesse onstage to discuss his theory of creativity, his reasons for exchanging his dream of becoming a scientist for a career in public radio, and his Doogie Houser-esque college experience.

99% Invisible is available on iTunes and Soundcloud. You can follow Roman on Twitter at @RomanMars.

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Comedy: Steve Agee on Movie Trivia in the Pre-Internet Age

Why did God invent the internet? Steve Agee has an idea. It's probably not what you think.

Steve Agee is a writer, actor, and standup comedian. He's a former writer for Jimmy Kimmel Live! and appeared as Steve Myron on the beloved Sarah Silverman Program.

You can follow him on Twitter at @SteveAgee.

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The Coup's Boots Riley on Merging Music with Social Activism, and What to Learn From Telemarketing

Boots Riley's life has always been about change, and never about complacency. He was already an leftist activist in high school, staging walkouts on school grounds, and he followed his parents' lead into community organizing. He was immersed in rap and hip hop in his hometown of Oakland, California, but didn't make the connection between the power of music and activism for several years.

Boots has fronted the hip hop group The Coup for over two decades as an MC and producer, and the group's positive, funky, and danceable music is still clearly message-driven in 2013. Their lyrics confront injustice, police brutality, and the rise of corporatism with aggressive wit. The group released a new album, Sorry to Bother You, late last year.

Boots talked to us about why he thinks an active engagement with world makes life worth living, finding humor in the disturbing reality of poverty and injustice, and what he learned from his time in, of all things, telemarketing.

BONUS AUDIO: Boots and his longtime collaborator Eric McFadden performed several songs live on stage. You can listen and share those tracks here.

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The Outshot: "I Got Five On it" by The Luniz

What says "Bay Area" to you? For Jesse, it's all about I Got 5 On It by the Luniz – specifically, the Bay Ballers remix.

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Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Tavi Gevinson, Retta, Michael Ian Black

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Show: 
Bullseye
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Tavi Gevinson
Guests: 
Retta
Guests: 
Nathan Rabin
Guests: 
Kyle Ryan
Guests: 
Michael Ian Black

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The Coup

Hip Hop and Punk Rock with The AV Club

The AV Club's Kyle Ryan and Nathan Rabin join us this week with music recommendations. Kyle suggests The Evens's new album, The Odds. Nathan recommends hip-hop group The Coup's new album Sorry to Bother You. Both albums feature artistic departures from the bands' traditional sounds -- The Odds marks a more melodic take on The Evens's punk-rock aesthetic, while Sorry to Bother You introduces punk and dance-rock elements.

You can find Kyle, Nathan, and their AV club colleagues on the AV Club podcast Reasonable Discussions. The Onion also has a new book out called The Onion Book of Known Knowledge.

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Rookie's Tavi Gevinson on Her Teenage Experience

Tavi Gevinson's interest in the artistry of fashion inspired her to start her blog, Style Rookie, when she was in middle school. Drawn to unusual color combinations, proportions, and textures, Gevinson sought to create narratives with her outfits -- which caught flack at school, even as fashion magazines praised her sense of style.

Most recently, Gevinson's founded and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the online magazine Rookie, a beautifully curated website for teen girls featuring content spanning myriad topics, including feminism, fashion, and how to build the very best forts. Gevinson recently collected some of Rookie's first year of content into a book called Rookie Yearbook One.

Gevinson joins us to discuss what sparked her foray into the fashion world, people's tendency to fixate on her age, and the qualities that make people worth writing about.

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Photo by Zac Wolf

Michael Ian Black on Halloween and Children's Creativity

Comedian and past Bullseye guest Michael Ian Black critiques his children's Halloween costumes and reflects on their creativity, live from our very own MaxFunCon East.

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Retta on Character Evolution and "Parks and Recreation"

We may have only known Retta as a neurosurgeon, given her pre-med track in college. But after a few years of working in the pharmaceutical industry post-grad, her casual TV-watching led to a spark of realization -- acting could be a viable path, too. Her newfound dream of working in entertainment led to a stand up act, and eventually the role of Donna on NBC's Parks and Recreation.

Retta talks about her start in show business, her fear of being typecast, and the evolution of her character on Parks and Rec, Donna Meagle. You can catch Parks and Recreation Thursday nights on NBC.

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The Outshot: Lake Dredge Appraisal

Who is better suited to parody the reality TV show genre as a whole, and Antiques Roadshow in particular, than the folks at The Onion? This week, Jesse recommends Lake Dredge Appraisal, a sly take on your typical appraisal show which often defies your expectations.

What show are you enjoying lately? Why don't you head over to the MaxFun forums and share YOUR outshot?

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The Coup - Underdogs

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If this doesn't touch you...

One thing that Boots of The Coup always understood was that social change has to come from a human place. All the big revolution talk in the world won't move half the people this song will.