Boots Riley, frontman of Oakland's The Coup, is just one of the many legendary rap artists to share stories behind the music in the new book Check The Technique Volume 2 by Brian Coleman. In a brief excerpt from the impressive 500+ page book, Riley reveals some mackadocious method acting that brought the group's 1998 song "Me And Jesus The Pimp In A ’79 Granada Last Night" to life:
Boots Riley: Originally I had wanted to do a song that talked about how sexism against women hurts mens’ lives, too. I had all these different concepts but then somehow that first line came into my head, about how he was smiling like a vulture. I thought of one of those old cartoons, where the vultures are smiling like they’re gonna get something. Then the writer in me took over from there, and it just went line by line. I didn’t know who he [Jesus the Pimp] was or anything like that, although some of the stories in there happened to people I’ve known. After a few lines in, I figured out what the story would be.
When it came to that being the single, I just chose which song I liked the most. It wasn’t really a single, we just put a bunch of songs on wax that we thought that college radio would play. I figured people would like that one the most. And people definitely took to it. The album got a European deal [with Circus Records, from London] because some DJ in New York played that song at a club and the label owner was there and loved it. We still do a version of that in our live shows today.
I like the way the video turned out, but it could have been even better. We had a really bad producer and we missed a whole bunch of shots because he didn’t get the permits and stuff like that. We tried to do the video literally and that made it more complicated. [Actor] Roger Guenveur Smith was in some magazine saying we were his favorite group, so we got him to be the star of the video. He played Jesus the Pimp. And that was crazy because he’s a hardcore method actor, so in-between scenes he stayed in character. We went into this bar called The Serenader in Oakland, and he was acting like a pimp in there. I couldn’t tell if he was flippin’ out or not. He was giving people attitude and I’d be going to people behind him, saying how he was in character. He was trying to fight with people, picking up chairs. He didn’t come out of character until the next day [laughs].
Excerpt from Check The Technique Volume 2 by Brian Coleman. Catch the author at free events signing books in Fremont (November 13), San Francisco (November 14) and Oakland (November 15); more info on those dates here.