Rapper with a positive attitude

Music/ beyond the 'gangstas'
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The Independent Online
HE DOESN'T wave a gun or yell "kill the cops", but Michael Franti is still a black rapper with attitude. He is the most prominent of a new breed of politically-correct rappers who reject the macho gun culture of the ghetto and whose passion is for social justice.

San Francisco-based Franti's band, Spearhead, is playing on all three nights of this year's Glastonbury festival - a rare event for any band. His appearance there confirms his appeal to white middle-class British audiences. While "gangsta" rappers brandish Uzi sub-machine-guns on their album covers, his new record features a mother breast-feeding her child. Rather than boast of sexual prowess, the songs inside attack homelessness, racism, homophobia and the crumbling US welfare system.

Yet for all his appeal to the white crowd, Franti is a passionate advocate of black culture. His album Hypocrisy is the Greatest Luxury contained tracks with titles such as "Socio-Genetic Experiment" and "California Uber Alles", a diatribe against Governor Pete Wilson, now a prospective US presidential candidate. But he grew tired of the hardline approach. "When you're trying to get a political idea across, if you're just yelling at people, the only people you're gonna get are the people who want to yell with you. And if I'm saying something and everybody in the crowd is agreeing with me, I'm the only one who's thinking."

Gangsta rap songs were attacked as "nightmares of depravity" by Senator Bob Dole, another Republican presidential hopeful. But he shouldn't expect support from Franti, who may attack racism and homophobia everywhere else but keeps an eye on his potential black audience when he refuses to condemn the "gangstas".

"Some people say that because I don't do gangsta raps I must be a pacifist. Well, I don't believe that shooting innocent people is a good thing. But if somebody had asked five years ago if I would be in support of a war against the minority government in South Africa, I would have said, 'Hell, yeah. Go for it.'"