DISPOSABLE HEROES / “Television, The Drug Of A Nation”
When “Television, The Drug Of A Nation” dropped back in the early Nineties, I played it often on the radio and thought of it as a classic example of what used to be called conscious rap. I always got inquiries from listeners wanted to know “who was that” and how they could cop it. Like a number of listeners, I bought both the CD and the single. I ended up waiting in vain for a follow-up release from the duo of Michael Franti (vocals/front man) and Rono Tse (chain saw, percussion and beats).
Disposable came hard (sporting industrial-strength beats) with one of the heaviest commentaries of their era. Incisive and insightful analysis of American society, deeper than the average civics textbook. Much deeper. Just when I though something hip was arriving, the debut actually turned out to also be the farewell. The success of the debut release, Hypocrisy Is The Greatest Luxury notwithstanding, the group split up.
Michael Franti started over as both a spoken word performer and the leader of a new band called Spearhead. In 2001, Franti fulfilled his potential and released a concept album called Stay Human. A script about a governor who executes an innocent woman is presented as interconnected skits throughout the length of the release. But it’s not the skits that make the album important, rather it’s the music. Simply beautiful. Life Affirming. Intelligent lyrics mated with upful beats and deft arrangements.
The album is full of lyrically hip and politically relevant hooks. Even though there were a couple of intervening albums, Stay Human is the logical follow up to Hipocrisy.
It’s also Franti’s best outing as a vocalist. He sounds like he is really enjoying the whole project as he declaims hardcore opinions and analysis. It’s also a very warm and welcoming album. It invites sunshine into your psyche; too often, politically-oriented projects have a deathly seriousness emanating from them that rates a zero on the fun scale. Stay Human is human, full of warm words, laughing and joy, dancing optimism. Get to it you won’t be disappointed.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
Taking your vitamins
To quote Kalamu, “Too often, politically-oriented projects have a deathly seriousness emanating from them that rates a zero on the fun scale.” Exactly.
Listening to Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy is like taking your vitamins, recycling your grocery bags or attending a lecture on the trend of preventable diseases in Third World countries. Yeah, it’s good for you. Yeah, you know you’re doing the right thing. But all you really want to do is something else. Like, something you might actually enjoy. It doesn’t help that Franti was still trying to figure out if he wanted to be Chuck D. (“Famous And Dandy”) or Gil Scott-Heron (“Television”). Franti always was verbally incisive (“TV is the reason most [Americans] think Central America means Kansas”), but he hadn’t figured out yet that both Public Enemy and Gil Scott-Heron remained palatable even in their preachiest moments because they were also unfailingly funny and funky. Disposable’s stuff is virtually impossible to jam to and the funny factor is almost nonexistent. Even Franti’s jokes (“Willie Horton or will he not get elected?”) force you to think before you laugh. It’s the same reason I never liked Dennis Miller even though he was obviously a knowledgeable and talented comedian. A joke is no good if you don’t get it until you’re on the way home.
Thankfully, by the time Franti formed Spearhead, he’d figured out it would be best to be neither Chuck nor Gil, but himself. He must’ve realized that: a) his stiff, stilted rapping style was never going to actually flow, and b) his big baritone voice was better suited to crooning and chanting than anything else. Also thankfully, Franti mellowed his style but not his fighting spirit. Spearhead’s music is the hardest, least-compromising 'easy listening' you'll ever listen to. Sure, the far-left skits are annoying, but Stay Human is well worth both your time and your money. Check it out.
—Mtume ya Salaam
This entry was posted on Sunday, November 5th, 2006 at 12:40 am and is filed under Classic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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