"I started playing guitar in the early '80s, but when I became politically involved around 14 I looked at my reasons to be in music, and a lot of them were really selfish -- what-could-I-get-from-being-famous kind of things -- so I pushed music to the side as a career.
"But in the summer of 1989," Riley continues, "I heard about this woman and her two twin 8-year-old sons who were bloody beat down [in a San Francisco project] by police. But by the end of the day, it was police cars flipped over around the projects, police running out of there with their guns taken away. Of course, none of this came out in the papers, but people were telling us about it a week later.
"One thing that was the same in everybody's story [about the event] was that somebody started singing Public Enemy's 'Fight The Power,' and the whole crowd started chanting. At that point, people realized they were all of the same mind, that they could band together ... and that's when I knew what function the music could have. It can be the battle song, as well as a record of what is going on."
Looking back on the last seven months, Riley has been involved in a record and a battle, stemming from the cover of the Coup's fourth album, Party Music. A collection of analyses of societal shortcomings wrapped in everyday life and a low-end 808 hum, Party Music garnered massive press coverage when its proposed artwork -- depicting Riley detonating the World Trade Center -- circulated around the Internet in the days following the Sept. 11 attacks.
Though the cover was planned months prior to merely represent a radical change needed in the capitalist system, the cover was immediately replaced with a photo of a hand holding a flaming martini glass -- a literal Molotov cocktail. But the controversy surrounding Party Music's cover threatened to overshadow the accomplishment of the music and message. It's Riley's most personal release, the result of his move to a home ProTools studio which gave him the time to experiment with his cadence and creative process. Still, Riley doesn't regret the forum the controversy afforded him.
"If they're gonna shine a spotlight -- or a searchlight as it may be -- on me, I'm gonna use it to the fullest," says Riley, "That controversy allowed me to get statements in certain publications I usually wouldn't get in. And it allowed me to help show that everybody isn't just falling in line with George Bush."
Though The Coup's tour stops feature information booths of local organizations, Riley doesn't bring any sponsored political groups with him. The primary purpose of the tour is to provide a state of mind in which to receive information. Party Music is not just about a political party. As Riley sees it, free yo' ass, and the rest will follow. Here he goes again:
"When we perform," says Riley, "a normal performance includes bass, guitar, keyboards, a back-up singer, me and Pam [the Funkstress, The Coup's DJ]. We just funk it up. That do-it-together idea lends itself to the atmosphere of the funk -- the music and the vibe that comes through.
"The truth is, we're getting fucked. We're getting messed with by the ruling class, by the government. Let's just recognize and figure out how to change, and do it together. I contribute by talking about everyday situations, not about the gross national product or the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank. I talk about the frustrations of life. I just have a different analysis of the reasons behind the problems ... and that comes out naturally. I want to create that atmosphere to open people's minds up to hear more than just music."
The Coup perform Thurs., April 11, at Earthlink Live, 1374 W. Peachtree Ave. The X-Ecutioners and Kenny Muhammad also perform. 8 p.m. $15. 404-885-1365. www.earthlinklive.com.