Sorry to Bother You

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Boots Riley

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Show: 
Bullseye
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Boots Riley

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Photo: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

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: 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

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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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