If listeners in recent years have castigated hip-hop’s dilution of its original politically charged message in favour of tales of the highlife and gangsters, then celebration is at hand. Stay Human, from the former Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy artist, is a fine album that stokes a righteous indignation with a powerfully soulful beat.
Franti, a poet whose lineage is perhaps closer to Gil Scott-Heron or the Lost Poets, uses all his imposing skills towards one aim: political activism in the service of humanity. Spearhead have never dodged social issues – their debut album, Home, addressed aids, poverty and racial politics – and with Stay Human they are not about to stop. The album’s 13 songs are cut around a radio station keeping watch over a fictional healer, Sister Fatima, who is about to be executed. Programme phone-ins intersperse such driving songs as ‘Oh My God’ and ‘Soulshine’; actor Woody Harrelson guests as the voice of the state governor.
But Franti is nothing if not far-ranging and his references – both musical and political – build into a compelling whole. Rap giant KRS-One is evoked on ‘Rock the Nation’, while Zap Mama’s Marie Daulene adds a honeyed colour to ‘Listener Supported’. Stay Human gives music a much-needed blast of activist passion – and, to be sure, politics with some great tunes.