Folks who are into "alternative" music may recall Michael Franti, the lanky 6'6" former college basketball player (Michael Franti played for the SF Dons at the University of San Francisco) as the lead singer/rapper for a group called the Beatnigs. Not only did the name cause people to raise an eyebrow, but the fact that so few African Americans were involved in industrial music laid claim to Franti's willingness to embrace all types of music.
Franti's involvement with the Beatnigs garnered a small following. Hence, it was no surprise that when the Beatnigs broke up and Franti and former Beatnig Rono Tse formed the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, folks tooks to them immediately. It was on Hiphoprisy Is The Greatest Luxury (4th & Broadway/Island) that Franti recorded some of the most searing, heartfelt and politically based lyrics hip hop had heard up to that point. Songs like "Satanic Reverses," "Famous and Dandy" and "Language of Violence" demonstrated Franti's continued political growth and knowledge of global events as he delivered precise analyses of the OPEC Nations, gay bashing, immigration, and modern day Uncle Toms. Franti, found himself speaking out in public forums about many of the issues he raised in his music. The message in the music of these first two groups was very much up front and "in your face."
Enter Spearhead.On the band's 1994 Capitol Records debut."The name Spearhead comes from Chief Shaka of the Zulu Tribe, who invented a spear called the assegai. He took the long spear [they] would throw, shortened it into a hand-to-hand combat type of spear and put a big spear head on it. With that, he revolutionized warfare for the Zulus. It's a name that we take as the spirit of our militancy in the struggle and also how we reinvent the tools of our time to help us liberate." With the release of his latest release, Chocolate Supa Highway (Capitol), Spearhead will focus on the prison system. With over 1.5 million people currently incarcerated in this country, Franti wishes to see "true rehabilitation" occur. He explains that the imprisoned tend to come out more violent than when they entered, due to the inhumane conditions and mental anguish that exist in the nation's prison systems.
"It is crucial that I bring inspiration to an audience . . ." says Franti. "I want them to hear my songs, so that they're inspired to go home and write a song themselves . . . I don't just wanna make records that are just there to sell millions . . . I wanna have something that's deeper than that."
It is this comitment and the fact that Franti became a better musician that allowed him to move away from an industrial sound to the hip-hop/reggae/soul melange that permeates Chocolate Supa Highway. Produced by Franti, and largely recorded in the band's own Blak Militia studio, Spearhead's sophmore set explores "the other side of the information super highway--the Black realm. Most of the stories on the record come from my experiences of travelling around the world on tour and seeing the global warmth hip-hop has spread." This is perhaps best exemplified in one of the album's many standout tracks, "Rebel Music," which details the story of two men who are stopped by the police. Here Spearhead teams up with Stephen Marley of Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers. New to the group is bass player Oneida James, who is an experienced performer and L.A.-based instructor. Rounding out the group are David James on guitar, Rasta chanter Ras I Zulu and Carl Young, who has switched from bass to keyboards in addition to acting as the band's musical directer. Franti protege and new rapper Ismail Azim contributes on two album tracks and has joined the touring group. Even Franti is not sure where the Chocolate Supa Highway will lead him next. How exciting it will be to find out. - Dave "Davey D" Cook--Host of KMEL "Street Knowledge" (edited for this program)