Spearhead Home from 1994 is quite simply one of my favourite LPs, easily in my Top Ten ever (don’t tell me you’ve never played that game, geek!). I was never totally sold on The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, I always thought their lyrics were so much better than their tunes. Home rectifies this in good style as Franti assembled a great band and taking a little direction from Beastie Boys, A Tribe Called Quest, The Goats and even Arrested Development conjoured a fabulous organic hip-hop sound, adding an equally fabulous old-school afrocentric vibe as well as deep soul, jazz and reggae stylings. In amongst all this the lyrics are perfectly judged, passionate, good-humoured and relaxed, never less than excellent.
When I first heard an advance copy of this LP I just flipped, where had this band been all my life? the mix of elements sounded perfect for 1994, but also managed the trick of sounding timeless and classy too. There are no little production quirks, or fads which date this LP to a specific time – which is not true of a lot of hip-hop from that time, I mean I loved Digable Planets and the Pharcyde, but I can’t really listen to them any more. Home gets played a lot, particularly if I’m cooking (‘not that often then!’ – Mrs 1537).
You can tell this is a great LP right from the first chords of the opener, ‘People in Tha Middle’ a great party song whose opening lines are, ‘I am not a muslim but I read the Final Call / because within its pages there is something for us all’ – we’re not in 2 Live Crew territory here folks! This really is one of those LPs where as soon as each track starts I think, ‘oh, this is my favourite one’, I could wax very lyrical about every single track here – the wisdom of ‘Love is da Shit’, the roots positivism of ‘Piece o’ Peace’, the astonishingly perky, yet wise ‘Positive’ about taking an AIDS test*, the Zappa-esque ‘Red Beans and Rice’** and even the more downbeat closer ‘Caught Without an Umbrella’; but there are two real gems here in amongst all the other gems, even more sparkly and gem-like than the other, umm, gems.
First off is ‘Dream Team’, a work of genius plain and simple, the closest we get to straight hip-hop here which sets Franti’s delight at watching ‘The first time the NBA was in the ‘lympics’ and the nations unity behind the all-conquering team against the omnipresent social realities,
So how could ten Africans represent America?
Bullshit, It didn’t mean a thing
‘Cause in the same year we saw Rodney King
Franti’s answer? he sets up his own Dream Team – with Chuck D as announcer, Malcolm X as coach, Nat Turner and Angela Davis up front, Rosa Parks (‘gets the first seat on the bench’) to name but a few. It’s clever, funny, serious and joyous – the whole LP in microcosm. Franti even plots the half-time entertainment:
While Jimi Hendrix is fuckin’ up the spangled banner
up into the sky Miles Davis blows a horn
Look into the bleachers it’s Bill Clinton sellin popcorn!
My other favourite ‘Hole in the Bucket’ is again funny, wise, touching, clever etc etc. sorry to go, but do you get the picture? I remember it being released as a single which did precisely nothing, telling the tale of passing a change beggar on the street, whilst going to the shops, worrying about what he would spend the money on, not giving and then living with the moral consequences. It’s a song with a great twist at the end too. But don’t take my word for it:
I don’t know how commercially successful this LP was, I’m guessing not hugely as my friend and I (and my parents) are the only people I’ve ever met who own it. Home is one of those LPs that through sheer quality alone should have sold in the same numbers as Thriller in a better and more just world there would be special Spearhead-a-coaster rides at Disney, tribute bands, a biographical movie and officially licensed Lego minifigures. I expect the truth was a bit more prosaic. Spearhead continued to do good stuff, but this was definitely the peak of it all for me.
As a special 1537 limited time only, 2 for 1 deal, I also looked again at a promotional 12″ Of Course You Can. A political empowerment number it discusses, amongst other injustices the sheer impossibility of anyone of African American descent becoming president. It also contains 3 other tracks which were on the LP too. It was my first Spearhead vinyl in November 1994, believe it or not, given my love for Home (which is very probably not entirely Platonic), I only got around to buying a vinyl copy of it last May. Shocking.
*I can’t think of a bubblier song on the subject off hand, or a better one.
** massive 1537 bonus points for the line ‘most people on the planet, eat beans and rice / some can’t afford beef, or they think cows are nice’
Here’s a great live-in-the-studio version of ‘People in tha Middle’ I found, not as smooth as the LP one, but with some great drumming.