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Taken from The Daily Bruin Online (April 23, 2002)
Spearheading Hip-Hop
Michael Franti attempts to infuse his work iwth a more socially conscious perspective
by Mary Williams
Daily Bruin Senior Staff

Michael Franti
Franti is shown here having a good time playing the Sno-Core Icicle Ball.
Walking slowly in bare feet, shorts and a T-shirt, Michael Franti seemed unaware that his manager Pretty, a large man with dreadlocks that reached down to his waist, was trying to hurry him through a tight schedule that included travel, an interview and a performance.

Franti, the frontman of the underground hip-hop group Spearhead, stepped over a plastic fence into the performers-only area at Saturday's Whole Earth Festival and proceeded to join the entourage that was waiting for him. After at first wandering away in the wrong direction, he was finally led to the trailor that acted as the band's dressing room for his pre-show interview.

Franti, a tall, unassuming man with long dreadlocks and brown patterned tattoos on his legs, is the acclaimed artist whose hip-hop lyrics have been both angry and upbeat, critical and celebratory. His live shows are infused with a joyous air, as he dances across the stage, plays guitar, sings and raps.

Michael Franti
Michael Franti spins his hip-hop messages with a positive demeanor and a smile.
"I believe that music is one of the healing arts," he said.

In the same spirit, he likes to mingle with the crowd for over half an hour after each performance talking to his fans.

Just because Spearhead has a positive vibe doesn't mean that Franti is no longer socially conscious, however.

"I deal with world issues in my songs, so it doesn't make it less political," Franti said. "It makes it more powerful."

As a songwriter, Franti has changed and developed since his start in the late '80s as a member of a performance group called the Beatnigs. The group's only album was political in its message and heavily industrial in its sound.

A few years later he formed the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy with his partner, Rono Tse, from the Beatnigs. The duo again released only one album before disbanding, and Franti reappeared with Spearhead.

He says that one way in which his songs have changed is that currently he is writing more songs in first person.

Michael Franti
Michael Franti focuses on playing for the crowd last weekend.
"I used to write songs about how the government sucks and life sucks, and everything's bullshit, which it is, but I try to write songs now that are from personal experience, that are metaphors for the way things could be and the way we want them to be," he said.Franti began not by writing songs but by writing poetry. He started seriously writing when he was around 18, but it wasn't until the late '80s, when he was in his early 20s, that he began to put those words to music.

"I recognized that poetry moves your mind, your emotions but not your body," he said.

When Franti began to convert his poems to music, political rap was at its high point, with socially conscious artists such as Public Enemy and KRS-One releasing albums in the late '80s.

"I was really excited by hip-hop because I thought it really inspired you to have a voice. And it has," he said. "I'm really sad about the fact that MTV and radio have sent the message that hip-hop is all about materialism; it's all about greed; it's all about self-hatred. To me, hip-hop and poetry are the opposite of that. They're about self-love and about self-expression."

Even though Franti's work now focuses on those positive ideals, his earlier music, while he was with the Beatnigs and Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, had the angry and political lyrical messages that were prominent in so much of rap music.

"There were times when I was releasing my anger and that was the only emotion I was unleashing," he said. "Now I realize it's important to give voice to the full rainbow of emotions - joy, serenity, but anger is one of them. For me its about letting go like the ocean lets go in the natural process of building up and building up and then ahhh."

His focus on not only politics but also positivity sets him apart from much of today's mainstream hip-hop, which has come under fire for misogynistic and violent lyrics.

The persona of many popular rappers is often one of either a gang member or a rap star living a large and materialistic life. These are not messages that Franti agrees with.

"There are two messages in my music," Franti said. "The first is compassion. Try to be compassionate. The second is to be yourself, whoever you are."




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