"Bail out the banks, loan art to the churches"
—Satanic Reverses. Michael Franti
Before Michael Franti created the genre-bending collective Spearhead that effortlessly mixed Hip Hop, funk, reggae, and pop music, inviting listeners to travel on the Chocolate Supa Highway, there was the experimental ensemble "The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy." Teaming up again with DJ and percussionist Rono Tse (they had already together produced The Beatnigs) and guitarist Charlie Hunter, Franti traced the ongoing consequences of colonialism, domination, empire, capitalism and homophobia, as well as the resistances and refusals of people not acquiescing to the status quo.
Franti intended the name of the band and their first album ("Hypocrisy Is the Greatest Luxury") to be critical of the contradictions of contemporary capitalist culture, "If you're a young black person, your only role models are athletes and entertainers. You see, these people used by the corporate system to make money, after which they're thrown on the scrap heap. They're disposable heroes…the name Hiphoprisy deals with the fact that, inevitably, there is hypocrisy in all of our lives, including mine"
The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy critiqued sellout artists in "Famous and Dandy (Like Amos and Andy)"; climate change, the threat of nuclear fallout, and the faux white supremacist environmental movement in "Everyday Life Has Become A Health Risk"; and the generative, introspective, and revelatory musings and confessions of "Music and Politics."
"Language of Violence" tells the story of a young person being bullied and attacked for his sexuality. As reported by KQED last year, "On Feb. 4, 1992, the musician, rapper poet Michael Franti—Tse's partner in the alternative-rap group Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy—held a press conference to announce their latest single, "Language of Violence." They were accompanied by the late activist Barbara Cameron of the Community United Against Violence, award-winning filmmaker Marlon Riggs, and Namane Mohlabane and Neico Slater of the Oakland Men's Project. It marked the first time a major-label hip-hop act mounted a marketing campaign around supporting the LGBTQ+ community.
I always appreciate albums and songs that risk making predictions about future history by projecting forward the possible consequences of the past. "Satanic Reverses" is that type of joint. The title is a play on Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, a novel that put his life in continual precarity as Iranian leaders called for Rushdie's death. Recently, Hadi Matar attacked Rushdie, stabbing him in the neck and eye at the Chautauqua Institution literary festival in Western New York last year.
Franti emphasized how censorship of ideas and art is tied to US foreign policy of imperial designs and the conservative backlash during the 1980s in the United States. Invoking OPEC, the rise of Japan as an economic superpower in the 1980s, and the people's revolutions in Eastern Europe, the Disposable Heroes reminded us of the ongoing influence of reactionary fascism and censorship on civil rights.
Franti's lyrics seduce the phat beats produced by Rono Tse and Charlie Hunter – who cut his recording teeth with Franti. Jack Dangers, of Meat Beat Manifesto, mixed the album.
"While in the United States civil rights have
Collapsed at the hands of fundamentalists
And national insecurity's at an all-time high
Exxon and on and on and on
The ministers of double speak
New meanin' of clean they tried to teach us
They staged the phoney shampoo of the Valdez greases
Completely jheri curled the beaches
Pipe bomb for the NAACP
And a hit on Salman Rushdie, the Berlin Wall comes down
And the U.S. cracks down on illegal aliens
Ban the freedom of choice for those wantin' abortion
And enforce capitol punishment
Twenty four hour radio ban
For indecency determined by the F.U.C.C.
Why are we so anesthetized to the lies?
Because we do it in our own lives
We believe all the things that we want to hear
But then we also love to criticize."
"Television, the Drug of the Nation," received the most airplay. The track, first recorded by The Beatnigs, focused on addition to television, you can essentially Madlib the internet for television, and the implications would be similar today in terms of the "social dilemma" of a handful of corporations colonizing our attention span and imagination.
"T.V. (The Internet) is the reason why less than ten percent of our
Nation reads books daily
Why most people think Central America
Socialism means unamerican
and Apartheid is a new headache remedy.
T.V. (The Internet) is the stomping ground for political candidates
Where bears in the woods
are chased by Grecian Formula'd
T.V. (The Internet) is mechanized politic's
remote control over the masses
co-sponsered by environmentally safe gases
watch for the PBS special.
One Nation under God
has turned into
One Nation under the influence
of one drug."
The internet is not a unidirectional tool for fascism – despite Rocket Twitter Boy's efforts. When used by social movements, internet technologies can produce liberatory outcomes. Cory Doctorow has written several novels and short stories about these same themes. As Cory Doctorow reminds us in the acknowledgments to the third novel from the Little Brother series, Attack Surface, with a hat tip to Tom Eastman for the inspiration, the one drug proffered by "The Web is five giant services filled with screenshots of the other four."
Check out Mosi Reeves 2022 profile article about Rono Tse, "on being one of the earliest Asian American performers to achieve mainstream visibility in hip-hop music…. The impact of his two pioneering industrial groups, the Beatnigs and Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, echoes through modern rap names like JPEGMAFIA and Death Grips. He toured and hung out with some of the biggest acts of the 1990s, including U2, Public Enemy, Kurt Cobain and Sonic Youth. He mentored Mystik Journeymen, one of the key figures of the indie-rap era. Most importantly, he demonstrated how hip-hop can draw participants of all colors, races and genders without being compromised or losing its Black-centered origins."
Michael Franti and Spearhead are touring this summer.
So too is Charlie Hunter.
Check out Tse's new project Panther Products Oakland.