Michael Franti & Spearhead : Stay Human

Michael Franti returns in his Spearhead guise with another politicized hip-hop assault...

San Francisco has spawned many radicals in its time, but none quite like Michael Franti.

The main instigator behind collectives like Beatnigs, Disposable Heroes Of HipHoprisy, and now Spearhead, has occupied a grey musical area informed by hip-hop in its most alternative form, yet touched by traces of punk, soul, industrial and jazz. Sometimes a singer who raps or vice versa, Franti uses melodic rhymes to draw all the disparate genre-ic strands together. And here, stung by the modest reception to the initial Spearhead project some years back, he’s returned to the underground to address pressing issues.

Thematically, ‘Stay Human’ proposes that grassroots community activists infiltrate, overthrow, and take the media into their own hands to get important messages across. As a conceptual diatribe against the death penalty in the USA, songs here are punctuated by excerpts from broadcasts by an imaginary pirate station of its title. Stay Human Radio, as she is called, details events leading up to the execution of a fictional activist, Sister Fatima, framed for a murder she didn’t commit, to the backdrop of a right-wing state governor’s re-election bid.

The actor Woody Harrelson is frightening enough as the politico, but most of the real politics here, despite pointed parallels with current real-life events, comes from the actual songs. From ‘Oh My God”s sweeping overview of disenfranchised America inwards, Franti makes as good a case as ever for the use of music as a direct action platform. And tunes like the horn-laden ‘Listener Supported’ and the insurrectionary funk of ‘Rock The Nation’ come with boss grooves. Even the title track’s dedication to all the freaky people of the planet is dressed-up for dance as well as listening action.

Not hip-hop in its most conventional form then, but a mutant version drenched in, and suffused with, the same rebellious spirit. An organic meta-hip-hop, if you will, that hearkens back to Gill Scott Heron’s innovation and looks forward as well.

Dele Fadele