The Coup's Boots Riley Talks Abusive Language Charges After Virginia Festival Scandal

June 30, 2008 5:05 PM ET

A performance by Oakland hip-hop group the Coup at a festival in Norfolk, Virginia, last week ended abruptly after police there accused Coup leader Boots Riley of using abusive language and charging him with an obscure obscenity law. Since Riley was first hit with the charges on June 21st, the city is going through with prosecution, the first time in 26 years — and the first time the law has ever been applied to a performer — the law is being enforced. Riley, however, alleges the charges are racially motivated and not the result of anything the rapper may have said onstage. "I stayed and debated the validity of the charge with police and festival promoters," Riley said. "It is clear that this is part of a larger debate that has nothing to do with profanity. That debate is about racism, gentrification and the ownership of public space."

Riley also alleges that because the festival attracted a predominately African-American audience, the festival received numerous "noise complaints" to the Towne Point Park location — an area where high-priced condos were recently built — even though they followed the same noise decibel code as other festivals. Riley does admit to dropping a few f-bombs here and there — one of the group's choruses is in fact "What the fuck?" — but the expletives were "meant to flatter, explain a life situation, or used as a lyrical device to provoke positive thought."

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