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Taken from North County Times (July 28, 2004)

Spearhead aims high for the next level of hip-hop

by Kent Kimes - Knight/Ridder

    Michael Franti & Spearhead at Baja Bash 2004
    When: Today-Sunday (Spearhead performs at 8 p.m. Saturday)
    Where: Highway 76, La Jolla Indian Reservation, Pauma Valley
    Tickets: $120, four days; $100, three days; $80, two days
    Info: www.bajabash.com
For Michael Franti, leader of the left-of-center hip-hop group Spearhead, music is on par with life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness.

"I believe music is a natural right," he said, in a recent phone conversation from Asheville, N.C. "Like fresh air and a clean place to live. We all deserve the opportunity to feel what music gives us."

So he titled the latest CD by Spearhead "Everyone Deserves Music."

It's somewhat rare in hip-hop, but Spearhead is actually a band, playing its own instruments and not relying on drum machines, playbacks and DJs.

Spearhead also has toured with some seemingly incongruous artists through the years, including the Indigo Girls.

But Franti said hooking up on the road with Ziggy Marley, the eldest son of reggae legend Bob Marley, has been the most enjoyable experience so far.

"Ziggy has these incredible footsteps to follow in, and it is very difficult," said Franti. "But he has done an awesome job of being an ambassador of reggae while still forging his own identity."

Reggae, along with funk, soul, rock and disco, informs Franti's work, and although he professes a love for hip-hop, he said he disagrees philosophically with the commercialism and violence that have been associated with the genre in recent years.

Rashaun Hall, R&B editor for Airplay Monitor magazine, likened Franti and Spearhead to the Black Eyed Peas before that group's breakout hit "Where Is the Love?" a Grammy-nominated collaboration with Justin Timberlake.

"But he (Franti) is a little bit left of the Peas," said Hall, who also writes a hip-hop column for Billboard. "I don't think you'll see him hawking it on MTV or doing a Twix commercial."

Along the way, Franti, who also performed with Beatnig and the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, has evolved from an angry young rapper to a peace-championing crooner, typified by the smooth-soul-sound-with-a-message song "Bomb the World" from the new CD.

Hall said because Spearhead borrows from other genres and because Franti is a classic emcee/vocalist, "they are a hip-hop based group. But their lyrical content is not common."

And as with the most effective hip-hop groups, Spearhead has a knack for getting a crowd up off its feet and received a warm reception at Street Scene 2003. On Saturday, Spearhead performs at Baja Bash 2004 on the La Jolla Indian Reservation in Pauma Valley. Fans have dubbed the group's shows "ExSpeariences."

"Our shows are part spiritual, part booty-shaking sweat party," Franti said.


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