target="_blank">Urban Ambiance Journal (March, 1997)
Spearhead: Chocolate Supa Highway [UAJ review]
by spearit from Urban Ambiance Journal
In 1992 Spearhead frontman Michael Franti released Hipocrisy is the Greatest Luxury with his group the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. The messages were positive and the music innovative, but hip-hop heads weren't feeling the groove.
In 1994 Spearhead debuted with the groundbreaking Home which crushed all sorts of musical boundaries. It was hip-hop with live instruments but funky as hell and true as could be to the culture. On top of that, it had serious messages.
Spearhead won awards for "Positive," a song about AIDS-testing and "Hole In the Bucket," a track about homelessness. The album was thought-inspiring and their live show surpassed that of the Digable Planets, who they opened for.
At the very end of last tour, I caught up with Michael Franti, a very tall man at 6'6" (a full foot taller than myself) and had one of the best interviews of my career with him. At the time, he also recorded this sound bite for me, on which he mentioned the "Chocolate Supa Highway." So I guess you could say I had a full two years on this one as far guessing the title for the current release.
In any event, this CD on Capitol Records is due out March 25, 1997, and take my advice-camp out the night before and buy this one as soon as it hits the stands.
Franti begins by logging onto the Chocolate Supa Highway via Africa Online (incidentally-it's about time someone used an authentic logon connection instead of imitating them...). He then moves into the title track which will have soul music buffs tripping with its references:
check it, I'm descending back into this record
the heavy breathing funky rhyme paramedic
'cause I can't stand the pain outside my window
flex like flash when they try to pull me under
My favorite is, no doubt, the second one-a great Ann Peeble's imitation switched up to accentuate some wicked wordplay. The vibe on this cut is nothing short of ass-moving and head bobbing. And of course the positive messages are in there:
Yes, I remember, the time in Oklahoma,
You tried to blame an Arab, but the Whitey was the bomber.
You be jumpin' to conclusions
I think you spent your whole life watchin' cable in seclusion.
Illusions 'bout what's outside your door
One nigga two nigga three nigga four
Robbing every house and every liquor store.
"Food for tha Masses" is an example of Franti's expertise not only in creating lyrics, but lyrical rhythms. Franti has said that he studies other rapper's rhythms to see what kind of things their doing and then tries to work with them to do his own thing. The flavor is so, so tight you might need a laser to break it down.
Another highlight is "Rebel Music (3 O'Clock Roadblock)" which features Stephen Marley. Marley sounds so close to his father, this cut makes you realize what it would sound like if the Honorable One were alive doing collaborations.
Spearhead's sounds throughout the album are never static-rather, very dynamic, each track inspiring different moods. Music ranges from hip-hop to funk to soul to jazz to reggae to guitar-based drumless musings to mellow, bouncy aural rides. And for Disposable Heroes fans, there's a remake of "Water Pistol Man."
The lineup is similar to the one on Home. Keith McArthur is replaced by Carl Young on bass and Trinna Simmons is on backup vocals (the beautiful Mary Harris is noticably gone, but well-replaced). James Gray is no longer on drums (he is currently working as a bassist with my man Adam Bomb for his new project) and Le Le Jamison isn't around on keys. Some nice additions can be seen in real the instrumental variety-one track has a violin, another has a sitar, and the sax is prominately featured. And, oh yeah, Ras I Zulu adds his piece here and there (he cracked me up during my interview with Franti).
Simply put, do not miss this album. Open your mind up for what hip-hop really is. And be sure to play it for any of those fools who are still insisting that hip-hop isn't music.
Hardcore Franti fans may also want to peep out the new Zap Mama album, Seven on which he is featured twice.