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).
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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.
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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.
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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.

4 Responses to “DISPOSABLE HEROES / “Television, The Drug Of A Nation””

rich Says:
November 5th, 2006 at 6:34 pm

I still remember when I first heard this track that it was like a wake-up call. Politically switched on, funky and with a slice of anger apparent in the performance. Coming of age with the arrival of the track, I know many of my peers and I hung on to Franti’s early music, both with Disposable and Spearhead, as our generation’s angry, gifted poetic voice. Perhaps in retrospect the music may not prove as seminal as Scott-Heron and PE, but it definitely expanded the consciousness. If I remember rightly, one of the highlights of seeing Disposable Heroes live was the freakishly talented guitar player, Charlie Hunter – a one-man music machine who could coax out bass, guitar and organ lines seemingly simultaneously while he played.

Clarence Says:
November 5th, 2006 at 11:19 pm

Thanks I have been looking for some music by Michael Franti for two years. Thanks again and this is one CD I will have to get.


Matt Says:
November 7th, 2006 at 11:36 am

Franti’s first effort, with the Beatnigs, is also in your face industrial/rap/hip hop… Sadly, it’s no longer available.

I agree fully that what Franti and Spearhead are putting out is some wonderfully life-affirming music, but I think that if you buy the disks and think you’ve heard the best of what they have to offer, you are missing out. They are the best live band I’ve ever seen, bar none.

Eric Says:
November 9th, 2006 at 1:14 pm

thank you for this wonderful song I heard once about twenty years ago from the beatnigs live. They were support for a Billy Bragg ! concert and the whole show was blasting away everything so I fully agree with Matt. Especially the refrain of this song is escorting me my whole life when I tried to talk to anybody who couldn´t get off his eyes from this – drug.
Againandagain – thank you: Your blog is alive

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