Boots Riley is a musician, vocalist, writer, and public speaker known for being the front man and producer of the political hip hop group The Coup, and the front man of Street Sweeper Social Club (with Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello).
For decades, Boots Riley has been an integral part of the progressive struggle for radical change through culture.
At a young age Boots served on the central committee for the Progressive Labor Party. He was the President of InCAR (International Committee Against Racism), and organized to build California’s Anti-Racist Farm Workers’ Union.
In 1991 Boots Riley founded the political hip hop group The Coup. Pam the Funkstress, DJ for the group, joined in 1992. The same year, he and other Hip-Hop artists created the Mau Mau Rhythm Collective. They put on “Hip-Hop Edutainment Concerts” which allied with and promoted the campaigns of community based organizations like Women’s Economic Agenda Project (WEAP), International Campaign To Free Geronimo Pratt, and the Black Panther Alumni Association. The Mau Mau Rhythm Collective was actively involved in the campaign to stop the FBI’s “Weed And Seed” program (which was used in the ’60s in conjunction with CoIntelPro) from coming to Oakland. They used the growing popularity of their concerts to organize a large number of youth to hold a public meeting within a closed Oakland city council meeting.
In 1994, Boots co founded The Young Comrades a politically oriented community group that staged free concert / rallies and dedicated itself to working on material reform issues in Oakland, such as the campaign against Oakland’s “no cruising” ordinance.
In 2000, through his workshop on Art and Organizing at La Peña Cultural Center, Boots Riley led a group of young artists to create “Guerilla Hip-Hop Concerts” on a flatbed truck which traveled throughout Oakland to protest California’s Proposition 21. The workshop also distributed tens of thousands free cassettes of “The Rumble”, which he called “newspapers on tape”. Boots Riley taught a daily high school class, “Culture and Resistance: Persuasive Lyric Writing”, at the School of Social Justice and Community Development in East Oakland.
In 2001, Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello invited Riley to be part of the “Tell Us the Truth Tour”. The tour was meant to shed light on alleged monopolization of the media and the coming FTAA agreements. It featured acoustic performances by Riley, Morello, Billy Bragg, Steve Earle, Mike Mills and Jill Sobule. It was hosted by Janeane Garofalo and Naomi Klein.
In 2009 Boots Riley and Tom Morello released the self titled debut album for their band, the Street Sweeper Social Club. They toured in support of it along with Nine Inch Nails and the recently reunited Jane’s Addiction. Two songs, “100 Little Curses” and “Promenade”, from their self-titled debut received rotation on Rock radio in major markets. Street Sweeper Social Club headlined headliners of the 2010 Rock The Bells tour. Street Sweeper Social Club released “The Ghetto Blaster EP” in late July 2010.
Boots has appeared on Fox News’s Hannity and Colmes and ABC’s Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher. Syndicated right-wing columnist and sometimes Fox News host Michelle Malkin has called Boots’s lyrics “a stomach-turning example of anti-Americanism disguised as highbrow intellectual expression.”
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