Taken from sacrebleumusic (June, 2001)
by Trevor Baker
For Michael Franti, you would imagine, the last few years can't have been easy. As hip-hop's liberal conscience since the late Eighties, first with the Beatnigs, then the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy and finally Spearhead, he's seen things go from bad to worse. Gangsta rap has conquered mainstream hip-hop, as he's willing to explain at length, naked commercialism has conquered the music industry.
"The music industry isn't interested in music anymore," he says matter-of-factly. "What they're into is the iconography business. They create these boy groups and girl-groups and then surround them with sticker books and backpacks and everything else they can make money from. They might even end up giving the music away on the internet as a tool."
Despite all this, though, the dreadlocked outsider hasn't given up railing against the conservative consensus. And over the years, while his message has remained the same, the music has got progressively brighter, more upbeat and soulful. The new album "Stay Human" is political in the same way that Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On?" is political - two parts funk for every one part angry rant. It's a concept album - spooled loosely around the concept of an imaginary radio station campaigning against the death penalty. But don't let you put you off - there's a sense of fun here that belies the underlying seriousness, underlined by the fact that Woody "Cheers" Harrelson has a cameo playing the State Governor.
"The death penalty compilation' doesn't sound very appealing!" he admits. But as I've always told stories in my songs I thought I'd make an album that was one story. It's about human dignity - that's why I called it 'Stay Human'. Since I made the last record I had a baby son - I have another son who's almost fourteen but my new kid has really made me draw into question 'what kind of world do I want him to grow up in?' All I can do is try and be a good example."
Were your parents a good example to you?
"My parents were a good example - but not always of what to do, sometimes of what not to do," he answers in his characteristic calm drawl. "My father was an alcoholic all of my life until I was seventeen years old," he continues. "But then two years ago he had a stroke and since that time he's changed completely and become a very loving person and a very open person. He's become one of my heroes. When I first heard my father had a stroke I had a lot of mixed feelings. I thought 'oh God, my father's gonna die' but then I remembered a lot of times as a kid when he was drunk and I'd wished he would have died."
Did you always believe that you would end up being a musician?
"No," he laughs suddenly. "When I was a kid I really wanted to be a basketball player."
So could you give it all up now and be Michael Jordan?
"There was a time when I would have said yes," he answers slowly. "I would have said 'I'll play in the NBA for one year and give all this up' but now I get a real satisfaction from doing this and I think I'll be doing it for a long, long time."
Michael Franti was interviewed by Trevor Baker. June 2001