In hip hop, it’s not unusual for strong personalities to go up against one another—we call it beef. But the song “You Are Not a Riot” by the Oakland-based outfit called The Coup puts an interesting spin on beef with its subject, described in the subtitle as “An RSVP from David Siquieros to Andy Warhol”.
David Siquieros was a Mexican muralist and militant activist who gained prominence during the first half of the twentieth century. A Marxist painter who also famously attempted to assassinate Leon Trotsky, his work as a muralist was similar to Diego Rivera’s, embodying a nationalism centered in the proletariat and indigenous cultures of Mexico.
“You Are Not a Riot” imagines a scenario where Andy Warhol invites David Siquieros to a party, and Siquieros RSVPs with an all-out assault on Warhol and Pop Art’s cynical appropriations of the aesthetics of revolution. The line "you get hyped by the font in the death warrant/by the grain of wood in the electric chair" speaks directly to Warhol’s use of graphic imagery that has been separated from its political context.
This song was released in 2013, but continues to be a useful critique of the myriad ways that revolutionary forms continue to be appropriated by artists and corporations who profit from the aesthetic, but suffer from none of the risk. Think of the recent Pepsi commercial that played off of current protests, or the controversy over white artist Dana Schulz’s painting “Open Casket,” depicting the body of Emmett Till.
Ironically, David Siquieros spent some time in the eighties photographing Andy Warhol. They got along quite well, which is maybe not so surprising considering that this David Siquieros was actually the great nephew of the muralist in the song, who had died a decade earlier. We can only speculate what he might have thought of all of this.