Taken from Wildstyle (March 10, 1997)
Interview with Michael Franti
by Mc Flummi and mon-t
On the occasion of the second Spearhead record "Chocolate Supa Highway" producer, founder and frontman Michael Franti was already two weeks before their Hamburg appearance on 10 March at the "Gro?e Freiheit" in the Hanseatic city, in order to make graduation for the new work and give interviews. "I don't understand, why some people desire not to give interviews. To switch an advertising side in a magazine costs much money. With an interview I have the possibility of filling a side in such a way as I would like and it costs me nothing." So far Franti. And exactly this possibility used the 27 year old former college Basketballer extensively. Here is now the interview:
Michael, first you were with the Beatnigs, then member of the Disposable Heroes of HipHoprisy. Some time ago you created Spearhead. How did that come?
Mainly, because my music bored me. If I would still make the music of the Beatnigs or the Disposables, I would be probably going deaf, because we were banging to Heavy Metal Beats. But it is also because of creativity. Creativity is important in the world. If people are sitting all the day long at the desk marking stamps they will be going crazy. But if they have the chance to write a Song, to cook a meal or to draw a picture, gives them their creativity - a possibility of coming better through life. For me it is like that: I can't motivate myself if I sit before an empty paper and someone says to me: 'Come on, write a song!' But I can create an environment for myself, in which creativity comes automatically to me. And I can reach that by changing the music. If I change the sound of the music, I can think of new things, which I can use for a text. If I hear the Beat, I get new thoughts, I do not need anything to force.
Spearhead does not have the normal Rap-Sound. You use Live-instruments, like string and wind player, a lot of soul vocals. How would you describe your music style?
I always worked with musicians and I like to play live on the stage. You can change songs at any time, you can be simply very spontaneous. Spearhead should ensure that people will nod with the head. I would like soulful music. Because you should listen all the time to the record. That is exactly the same with records of Curtis Mayfield, Bob Marley and Marvin Gaye. I still listen to these records, since I am six years old. And also our music should be like this. You should groove to and enjoy the music.The first record was more jazzful, the new based more on Hip Hop Beats, Soul, Funk and Reggae. I don't know, how our next record will sound.I co-operated straight with Dancehall Artists, a root Reggae TRACK was taped. Then I produced a TRACK for Punk-Rock Band. I make different things. If I have the feeling to do something then I do it.
What is the concept of "Chocolate Supa Highway"? What does the record title mean?
The title comes from the Informationhighway. Everyone talks about the World Wide Web, but less than 1% of the world population possess a computer. Why is it called world-wide? That is exactly the same with the World Series in Baseball. It belongs only to America and two cities in Canada. It is like that: Not even Africa belongs to the net. And all say: 'It is world-wide!' I reflected a lot about it and remembered what Chuck D said: 'Hip Hop is the CNN for the black population!' The amusing is: When Hip Hop started, someone, which came from Tokyo, stated he would be from Brooklyn. That was everywhere like that, in France, in England. But nowadays Hip Hop is rised up. I know bands such as Toni L, Cora E or Die Fantastischen Vier. They represent the place, from which they come, in their own language. And that is for me like the Internet. Everyone can set the things, which he makes, into the Internet and send it into the whole world. I thing this is very powerful.
You have your own webside?
Yes, but I don't know where (?). I give not much attention to this.I am occupied mainly in the studio with computers, in order to produce songs and mix them. In addition I use it for E-Mail. You can send E-Mail to us on: MFSPEAR1@aol.com, that is really cool. I can communicate with people in the whole world without using my telephone.
On the new record are short parts (bridges): 'Africa online' and 'Zulu Interlude'. Is the Afrocentrismn important for you?
For me the Panafricanismn is important. It means that we must understand that all African humans on earth, all descendants of Africa, are connected as we all are. I don't give much attention to Afrocentrismn. Because it says that Africa is the ideal place. We are all kings and so on. The history of the black ones is warmed up again and again. I don't search in the black history, because whatever happened in Africa, it is history, a past period. And if we maintain that it is black history, then it will be qualified off by the people. The reason for its history is that it is truth. I would like that all humans understand: What happened in Africa, is truth. And therefore it is important, what happened to Haile Selassie or the Zulus. Not, because it is black history.
What is your impression of Minister Louis Farrakhan and its kind of operating politics?
I always tell those people, which ask me for Farrakhan: 'Hey, before you blame Farrakhan, look at the people such as Pat Buchanan, George Bush or Bill Clinton. Those are for me the true racists: 'Okay, Farrakhan often says rebellious things, which are to provoke the people. But the Nation of Islam do something for humans in our neighbourhood. They operate a baker's shop, give to approximately 50 to 60 people a work. They have projects, in which they want to divert people of drugs, in which it children after the school inform; they give a breakfast to the children before school. They strive and carry much out, in order to strengthen community. I regard Farrakhan, as I look at Dennis Rodman. If I want my son to be a perfect Rebounder, I would tell him: 'Look at Dennis Rodman - but don't let you make tatous when you are nine years old. You must look at him exactly and you have to decide, what you like at him and which not.'
Michael, recently you were on a Accapella-tour, on a Poetry-tour. How important are the Lyrics for you? How do you see the relationship between music and texts?
For me music and texts are inseparable. They belong together. You must consider the music in your texts, give consideration to it. Sometimes contrasts arise. It is the same in the cinema. You see the man smiling, then you hear the uncanny music. The man is a gangster, although he laughs. Exactly the same is in music. You hear very serious texts, but the music goes off simply and lets you dance and jump up. It is ironical in certain way.If you rap without music you do not have the emotions, which are set free by the music. You have always a basicbeat. But it is crucial, how you are rapping on this Beat (first rapping boringly, then with accenting and expression a text passage). By the way, how your flow is, you can change the reaction of the listeners. You decide whether they move the head or not. And that is exactly what I want to reach, if I am rapping without music.
Which topics are to be heard on the new record?
Many Songs on the record are about marijuana and the police - for certain reasons. The two topics are very important in California nowadays. A straight law was passed, which legalized medically marijuana. And naturally we have still constantly persisting annoyance with the cops. But I try to write about all areas of life. In 'U can?t sing R song' I sing about how much I love my girlfriend or in 'Tha Payroll' about cop kill. Or simply over basketball plays in 'Why o'why'. I try to tell everything, but at the same time to put everything in context from which each can filter something, can take consequences.
Do you see yourself as model for the youth?
Well, it is like I told. Some things at Dennis Rodman you like some other things not. For me everyone is a model, who possesses a position, in which people look on that person. If you are boss in a company or a teacher at a school, a Athlet, a Entertainer, mayor or politician, parents. All these humans are models. We always think that we have to emulate a model. But for me models also serve their purpose so that we can say: 'Hey, this is not what you should do, because it's stupid.'With us black one is it unfortunately always like the media want to show gladly Athlets and Entertainers. They do not show the normal people, which attend to their everyday work and carry out property. Only Athlets and Entertainers are shown - and black ones in prisons, that's it.
You come from San Francisco. What happens with you? I know DJ's such as Peanutbutter Wolf, Q-Bert and Mixmaster Mike. Do you have contact to them?
Yes, with the whole Soulsiders. The things of Dr. Octagon are out. Kool Keith hangs around now here. DJ Shadow has a quantity influence. The whole Bay AREA Scene is vibin'. It is very multicultured. There are asiatic people, white one, black one, Latinos, all in such scene, men and women equally. And the DJ's are not the only ones, who spreads the music. There are many bands, there are jazz jazz bands, which play live in the clubs. Rappers come then on the stage and rap with them. In addition there are many independent record companies, labels, which publish underground things. And in contrast to it we have the 'Millionsellers': E -40, Too Short, large superstar, which are famous in the whole world. But they do not affect me with their music, they make only the Pop-stuff, that will be well sold and then they can maintain, they make hardcore. What I mean, hardcore is if you work at Mc Donalds and try to let your records play with underground radio stations.
You heard the question probably already a thousand times. But what do you think about the East Coast - west Coast Dissing?
As I already said: I am Panafrikanist, therefore I do not see anybody as East Coast or west Coast. If you speak of East Coast or west Coast, I think of Ghana and Kenya. I find it sad what happens with the black ones again and again. Colonial powers wanted always that we fight each other among themselves mutually. They do not want that we get along with one another. They do not want that we face each other in a friendly manner that we are creative. They invent a division. This whole East Coast west Coast gossip is not high-sterilized by the media, the conflict existed at all. I mean, I go to New York, other brothers go to New York and everything is peaceful. You are simply only another brother. It is the same, if the people come to L.A. or San Francisco. I found out that 99,5 % of all humans in the world are really cool people. You must give them only one chance to become acquainted with and understand you. The small remainder of idiots creates it again and again to bring everything in disorder and out-pass on us mutually. With that they are real experts.
I put three MC's and a Rap-Group out. Could you give a short comment of you to everyone?
The first is 2 Pac:
I am really sad that the brother is dead, because he was strong, he had much fire and heart. He already died with 25. Look at all these things Malcolm X has achieved between his age of 25th to his death.And 2 Pac was straight on this path. Each humans go through a development. I do not understand, how people can say: 'He was a gangster. He earns death!' But nobody earns death with 25 years! In addition to that many people claim that 2 Pac is still alive. I saw his mother, after he had died. And I saw the boys of Digital Underground, which I know now for ten years. I think it is respectless according to 2 Pac's family, if someone claimss, 2 Pac is still live. I mean: It is your own matter to get ready with your death, therefore some people say, 2 Pac is alive. He can and he will live on in our hearts, in our spirit, but his body died and the people should accept this.
The next is Notorious B.I.G.: He has the coolest flow for me at present. How he deals with the words, is unbelievably (was rapping a passage from Biggies texts). He uses phrase, loooking quit normal, if one sees them written down. The people then always say: 'Wow, looks at this rhythm.' It was already like that in the High School. I said: 'Hey, stop that! Shakespeare does not have rhythm.' Compared with the Rappers, which bring rhythm on a completely new level. And Biggie is one of the masters. I don't take care with his posing, his consumption, his bragging. Because I do not believe that this is the answer for freedom or luck. I do not believe that wealth make people luckier and more freely live. But if I simply can enjoy his music, he belongs to my favorites.
KRS is one of the originals. He is one of the founder, for more than ten years. He experienced many ups and downs in his career. But he always keeps himself his creativity. And as I already said: That is really the most important for me. If I had a desire for the year 2000, I would wish myself that each humans should have each day the possibility of doing something creative. To write a Song to tell a history or whatever. And in this point Chris inspires me. He finds in himself one point again and again, from which he draws creativity. He is strong, always brings important topics on the point, without losing the fun at the music.
That is the most driven off band. I wished, my band would be like the roots, but I have to give my full respect. We had some appearances with them. The Drummer is simply mad. He is the fattest Drummer, which there is momentarily. It is exciting for me, who grow up with the Beatnigs - to see how a Hip Hop group get large as a band and inspires the audience. We also try to reach this with our band. We want to arrange our band as versatile as a DJ. The DJ can present a record and if the audience does not like these, he presents simply another record. And both the roots try to reach and we with our band. We made many tours with them and we understand each other pretty well, they are really cool.
Do you know the German RAP scene?
Yes, a little.
What do you think about it?
I cannot understand the language, therefore I hear more on the flow. Some of the German Rappers, which I heard, have really a good flow. But many of them sound rigid. Nevertheless I estimate it that they expressed themselves in their language and do not try to represent someone other. 'Keep it real' does not mean: 'I`m the baddest motherfucker on earth'. For me 'Keep it real' means to be simply like you are. If you are from Tokyo, you are the "Tokyo Joe", to be what you be! That is it, what I like from the RAP-scene in the whole Europe. The people overcame their identity crisis. First noone wanted to admit that he comes from Italy. He wanted to be from Brooklyn. But now they say themselves: 'Nevertheless, I am coming from Italy and that's ok. Therefore I come and can deal with it. This is what I like.
What are your next projects?
I have recorded a track with Shinehead, I work together with 'Invisibly man', who is also on the new record. Then I make a R&B record with Trinna Simmons, which likewise sings on the record. I have a Dancehall group named 'Scorpion in backshot'. It passes a lot in my studio. I try to help people, which just begin acting. This week the new record of 'Zap Mama' came out. That is an African singing group, which comes from Belgium. I produced two tracks for her. Further I also work on many soundtracks, so there is enough to do. But most of it will be released probably at the end of the year.
The interview was conducted by Mc Flummi and mon-t.
Posted at Wildstylz of Rap and printed in Backspin.