Michael Franti & Spearhead - Stay Human (Parlophone)
Quite a few years ago now, Michael Franti was part of a mould-breaking hip hop act. The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy were unique in the fact that they were more successful outside the hip hop scene than within it. The industrial-based rhythms of Ronnie Tse, combined with Franti's intensely political rhymes, appealed more to the Nirvana T-shirt wearing indie-kid than the Tommie Hilfiger-clad hip-hopper. After one album and a collaboration with William S Burroughs, the Disposable Heroes split and Franti formed the more rootsy Spearhead. The gospel-influenced "Home" was moderately successful, but is more rap-oriented follow-up "Chocolate Supa Highway" virtually disappeared without a trace.
"Stay Human", with Michael Franti's name brought to the fore, is a slightly more commercially minded release. There's an upbeat, radio-friendly feel to the variety of different styles on show here. With the bombastic hip-hop intensity of 'Rock the Nation', the soulful 'Every Single Soul', the jazzy 'Do Ya Love', the massive P-funk style of 'Thank You' or the reggae stylings of 'Listener Supported', there's elements from every form of black music in the music, all coming together fluidly and professionally. However, a more commercial sound does not mean that Mr Franti has sold his political cred for a Billboard hit.
The revolutionary call to arms that is 'Rock the Nation' is the closest thing to the Disposable Heroes he's done recently, or the stream of outrage and righteous indignation that is 'Oh, My God'. Mainstream radio is unlikely to take kindly to lines like
However, there is a fly in the ointment that is "Stay Human". Threaded between the songs are outtakes from a fictional radio station with messages against the death penalty, political point scoring and in favour of independent media. While it gets the point across to a certain degree, on repeated listenings it gets very irritating and necessitates much pressing of the track forward button. Also, while the story is completely fictional, it's obvious that they're largely talking about Mumia Abu Jamal and real soundbites from Mumia and some indymedia broadcasts would have been more interesting. But, that's just one little niggle, and, apart from that, this is a great album. Recommended.