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Taken from shopping.com (August 27, 2003)

The Opposite of War Isn't Peace... It's Creation

Michael FrantiA review of Everyone Deserves Music

by plorentz


Author's Rating

Pros: An aggressive anti-war, pro-people message set to Franti's most radio-ready music ever.

Cons: The poprockness of it all might turn some hip-hop fans off.

The Bottom Line: Just because it's catchy doesn't mean it won't hit you in the gut. Not only does everyone deserve this music, they need it. One of the year's best, so far.

The man.

Michael Franti has had one of hip-hop's most interesting and rewarding careers; yet for nearly twenty years now he's managed to keep himself flying underneath the radar. Though he is well-respected among critics and journalists (the late, great editor-in-chief of Billboard magazine wrote a brilliant column on Franti when his last record "Stay Human" was released in 2001), he is virtually unknown to radio programmers, and thus, the general public.

Franti got his start as part of an experimental industrial rap duo called the Beatnigs in the mid-80s. At the turn of the 90s, he formed The Disposable Heroes of HipHoprisy, whose aggressively political heavy jazz-funk-rap hybrid bridged the way between Public Enemy and Rage Against the Machine.

Abandoning the Heroes for a more organic groove, Franti formed Spearhead, and released the album "Home" in 1994. With a low-key jazzy jam-band sound (yes, Spearhead is a band, not just "two turntables and a microphone"), and poetic, socially conscious lyrics on classic songs like "People In Tha Middle" and "Hole in the Bucket", Spearhead flirted with mainstream R&B/hip-hop stardom; but when their next album, 1997's "Chocolate Supa Highway" (a much darker, in-your-face type concept album) dropped, it flopped; and Spearhead themselves were dropped by their label.

Meanwhile, Franti became a much sought-after guest artist, appearing on albums by artists as diverse as DJ Spooky, trip-hoppers Lamb, and Lilith Fair folkie Jonatha Brooke, finally resurrecting the Spearhead moniker in 2001 with another biting concept album called "Stay Human", formatted as if it were a radio broadcast from a local independent station, and dealing head on with themes of political double-speak and specifically, the death penalty. "Stay Human" was a mighty slab of agro-jazz-funk (check out "Oh My God" and "Rock the Nation"), but at times, it seemed a little too married to its concept (the same can be said of "Chocolate Supa Highway").

That's not the case with Franti's most recent album, entitled "Everyone Deserves Music." In fact, this album takes Franti in a most unexpected, but extremely rewarding direction. And because he's operating without the burden of an overall concept, the album feels much freer and a heckuva lot more entertaining - but no less biting.

The voice.

Franti is one of hip-hop's - actually, one of music's - greatest living poets. But, his poetry isn't only in his words. It's in his voice, it's in his delivery, it's in his music; it's in his very being. He's often been compared to legendary jazz poet Gil Scott-Heron (see "Oh My God" from "Stay Human", or this album's opener "What I Be"), or to Marvin Gaye; but he's really begun to develop a persona and a voice all his own.

Half rapping, half singing; he's angry, but he's learned to channel it into love and creation. One minute, he'll be rapping about "rocking the nation" the next he'll be shooting imaginary hoops in his bedroom. His voice is weatherworn, but lively and optimistic; and at times it feels almost ancient; it's a voice very much of the earth.

He wears his political convictions on his sleeve, but mostly, he's a "uniter", not a "divider". "If I don't have enemies, I'm not doin' my job", he once said. And though his political stance is no less furious today, with this album, he seems determined to bring his message to the masses.

The music.

First, let's make one thing clear. "Everyone Deserves Music" is not a rap record. It's not wholly rock or pop either. Or jazz. Or funk. Or "nu-soul." But there are elements of all of that, all over this record. It really is a record for everyone.

But just because this album is Franti's most accessible record to date, doesn't mean it's less powerful. I'd argue that it's even more powerful than his previous work. The power on "Supa Highway" and "Stay Human" was raw and bloody, and well, kinda intimidating. Add to that his un-subtle (though hardly inaccurate) statements on domestic violence, police brutality, and state-sanctioned killing, you come up with a stew that, no matter how poetic, is bound to alienate most listeners.

Not so on "Everybody Deserves Music," which if anything is about love, unity (real unity) and optimism. Franti hasn't mellowed, and the message hasn't been diluted. His lyrical handgun is still loaded and he's still not afraid to take aim at his usual targets.

Check this lyric from "Bomb the World", which appears on the album twice, once as a nu-soul jam, and later in a more blatantly hip-hop version featuring incendiary rhymes by Radioactive and Ledisi:

It's not a war against evil

It's really just revenge

Engaged on the poorest by the same rich men

Fight terrorists wherever they be found

But why you not bombing Tim McVeigh's hometown

But these lyrics are dressed up in pop-radio friendly melodies and surprisingly standard rock arrangements that wouldn't sound out of place on a Lenny Kravitz record (check the anthemic "Love, Why Did You Go Away?". "Never Too Late" and "Crazy Crazy Crazy" are lovely acoustic folk tunes, while "Yes I Will" cops the guitar riff from the Clash's "Train In Vain" "Pray for Grace" bounces along on a retro-reggae vibe and "Love Invincible" boasts a disco groove that would make Macy Gray burn with envy.

But the album's great shining moment is in the upbeat and uplifting title track that recalls the sunny soul pop of Bill Wither's "Lovely Day", as much as the stadium-ready inspiration of U2's "Walk On." In the song's verses, Franti details the lives of a few downtrodden "losers" whose "computer's still runnin' whose mind has crashed" but when the chorus comes around, "everyone deserves music, sweet music...

"So I pray for them, and I'll play for them."

I just hope they're listening.
- - - - -
"Everyone Deserves Music" by Michael Franti & Spearhead

BooBooWax / Imusic Records

Released 8/27/03

Produced by Michael Franti

53 min.

SONGS: What I Be - We Don't Stop - Everybody Deserves Music - Never Too Late -
Bomb the World - Pray for Grace - Love, Why Did You Go Away? - Yes I Will -
Feelin' Free - Love Invincible - Bomb the World (Armageddon Version) -
Crazy, Crazy, Crazy

 
 

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