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September 22, 2003

Spearhead & The Masses

There's nothing quite like a hiphop artist with deep musical sensibilities. Michael Franti's got 'em. But he's also got a case of the radical blues, which is what you must feel when you think the masses ought to be listening but everyone around you is wearing dreadlocks and Doc Martins. He seems to be wearing them rather well judging from the enthusiasm of the graphics at his website, but I think he's living in his own little nasty world. You see, Franti is one of those rare individuals who has succeeded in mixing hiphop aesthetics with radical politics. His politics happen to be left and they have merged nicely with his need to be some sort of outlaw. What I don't think Franti understands is how foolish a permanent state of outrage makes him.

You see, once Ice Cube said 'Fuck the police', there wasn't much room to go, despite the fact that one can reasonably argue Cube's right to say so. Franti on the other hand wasn't satisfied. On his 'Home' album, he said 'Fuck the Police/We can keep the peace' which is an admirable sentiment in the context of a loud party. However, 'Home' was the last Spearhead album anyone could dance to. I didn't bother with the next, and my brother let me know mine was the right decision. Like the cheesiest of gangsta, Franti is so busy penning shocking lyrics that the music doesn't matter any more. You just get a headache to a jamming beat. I checked out his website today, and he has gone the length. Now it's 'Fuck the Constitution'. Evidently, he couldn't resist.

Spearhead, once the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, represents the underground of rap. Franti makes a fetish of his music being listener supported, as if he were National Public Radio. Then again, what political hiphoper wouldn't want to be? But I think he has painted himself into the corner in which he belongs. The corner of irrelevence. Franti is so deep underground that he might as well be a fossil. What's sadder still is that this kind of agitprop is only useful for someone who can, in the words of Chuck D, "reach the bourgeois and rock the boulevard". Sadly, Spearhead does neither. His music is soothing, funky grooves with jazz appeal. His lyrics are those of a hermetic outsider, forever cursing the system. The center does not hold.

Anyway, I'm not going to waste much more breath on Franti. I used to like Spearhead, now I think he should cut his band loose before they starve with him. 'Home' will always be his last good work even though it foreshadowed the madness now manifest.

Posted by mbowen at September 22, 2003 04:17 PM

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Tracked on March 24, 2005 11:57 PM


but have you ever seen him live? The man and his band really can rock the crowd. It's truly an amazing experience, and I have been to a LOT of shows.

Posted by: drublood at November 15, 2003 10:52 PM