Taken from The Gateway (November 3, 2010)
Album Battle: I am the West Vs. The Sound of Sunshine
by Kevin Pinkoski
I am the West
Lench Mob Records
Michael Franti & Spearhead
The Sound of Sunshine
The plan: pick two albums and pit them against each other in a gruesome deathmatch until a victor emerges. There can be only one.
In the endless battle to be the king of the West Coast, Ice Cube has dueled with a number of rappers, all hoping to usurp his claim to the throne. Cube's most recent album, I Am the West, seems to back up his claim. But can the West Coast only be ruled by rappers? Michael Franti & Spearhead's newest album, The Sound of Sunshine sufficiently challenges Cube's West Coast domination.
Biggest West Coast Claim
Cube: Stakes his claim by repeating "I rep that west" 32 times in one song.
Franti: Thanks California for helping him write his record.
Advantage: Clearly, Cube wants it badder than Franti. Give him some credit for his persistence.
Most West Coast Album Art
Cube: He redefines style by dressing in black, oversized — but gentlemanly — clothes. Sitting in a rocking chair, in the middle of the desert, he is protecting his West Coast turf with an enormous break-action shotgun.
Franti: With a boy floating in mid-air, an old boat, and the beach in the background, Franti fits perfectly in the center of his album cover, with guitar in hand and a smug smirk across his face.
Advantage: Ice Cube may be out in the Nevada desert defending California from a land invasion, but Michael Franti uses an amphibious assault to slip into the back door of the Golden State. If it worked for the Allies on D-Day, it's certainly going to work for Franti.
Most West Coast Track Listing
Cube: Starting with "Life in California," then continuing on "Too West Coast," "I Rep That West," and "Nothing Like L.A" in sequence, Ice Cube clearly has no qualms with overusing West Coast references when titling his songs, and by these metrics, that's a good thing.
Franti: Heavy with poetic mystery, Franti only makes subtle reference to days at the beach, girls who like days at the beach, days not at the beach, and sunshine — all quintessential items of the West Coast experience.
Advantage: Franti is a master of metaphors, similes, personification, and allusions, easily impressing just about any high-school English teacher out there. But Cube's lack of poetic ambiguity and total disregard for subtlety lets any listener know he means business. His straight talk would probably convince an English teacher more than Franti's pretty yet veiled lyrics.
Least West Coast Track Metaphor
Cube: It's hard to pick from "Drink the Kool Aid" and "No Country for Young Men," which both seem quite out of place. Ice Cube rapping in the first song "this is holy water / from the Holy Father / rock of Gibraltar / step up to the altar" will make listeners wonder if Cube's been busy touring the Vatican and the rest of the Mediterranean. Then there's the song "No Country for Young Men" that will leave you reminiscing about 2007's Best Picture Oscar winner No Country for Old Men, which takes place in Texas — a very un-West Coast state.
Franti: He might be making direct references to the West Coast with lyrics like "I wanna go where the summer never ends / with my guitar on the beach there with all my friends / the sun's so hot and the waves in motion," but couldn't Franti be referencing any summer beach? Cuba is nice this time of year, isn't it? Franti could be a communist, which is more Eastern Bloc than West Coast.
Advantage: Franti betrays himself with gentle ukulele in both "Shake It" and "Gloria." Ice Cube for sure.
Although Cube has been busy making family comedies, he still manages to defend his West Coast throne by a handy 3–1 margin. Unfortunately, it's hard to say if Franti could even make much of an attack on the West Coast. Even though he hails from San Francisco, he seems to combine a musical range that spans from Jamaican reggae to bluegrass and hip-hop. Franti is certainly west of somewhere and could probably make incredible use of a compass and a map to find his own sonic direction. The West is already clearly taken.