Boots Riley is a co-founder of the hip hop group the Coup, as well as the group’s primary producer, arranger and songwriter. Together with DJ Pam the Funktress, Riley has helped the Coup’s sounds evolve, from early ‘90s Afroethnicity to 21st century Raptivism. Along the way, they’ve released four classic and award-winning albums – Kill My Landlord (1993), Genocide and Juice (1994), Steal this Album (1998) and their most recent, Party Music (2001), which was named “best rap album of the year” by numerous publications including Rolling Stone and Village Voice, and “best pop album of the year” by the Washington Post . Boots also appears with dead prez on the compilation CD No More Prisons.
Riley was raised amidst political action in Oakland, California, where since the age of fifteen he’s been involved in organizing and inspiring youth. From student organizing in Oakland’s public schools, to serving on the central committee for the Progressive Labor Party, holding the presidential position for InCAR (International Committee Against Racism), and organizing to build California’s Anti-Racist Farm Workers’ Union, Riley has been an integral part of a progressive struggle for radical change through culture.
In 1991, Riley, along with a group of artists and activists founded the Mau Mau Rhythm Collective. The purpose of this organization was to use culture (mainly hip hop) to publicize campaigns by organizations such as the Women's Economic Agenda Project, the International Campaign to Free Geronimo Pratt, and various anti-police brutality campaigns. Also in 1991, Riley founded the world-renowned hip hop group, The Coup. In 1996, Riley helped to organize the Young Comrades, a political organization dedicated to working on material reform issues using a revolutionary class analysis.
Riley's activism – from local issues to international ones such as the World Conference Against Racism - has set an unprecedented standard of political organizing among hip hop artists. Riley has taught several workshops on arts and activism, sponsored by the California Arts Council, in which he developed “guerilla hip hop concerts” (mobile concerts on flat bed trucks). These workshops also produced “audio hip hop newspapers,” of which 20,000 were distributed throughout the Bay Area for each issue. Both of the projects that came out of the workshops were part of the campaign to stop Proposition 21.
Riley also spoke out against the bombing of Afghanistan as well as the war in Iraq in various local and international news media, such as Bill Maher's “Politically Incorrect” and Fox News’ “Hannity and Colmes.” Riley has been featured and interviewed in various international media, speaking on a variety of subjects from music, to grassroots organizing, to US imperialism and racism. Recently winning awards from the AFL-CIO for his participation with the Tell Us the Truth Tour, Riley continues to effect social change through his artistic and political work.