Michael Franti — “Say Hey (I Love You)”

Released: 6.7.09

Peak: #18

I wasn’t startled to hear a song by the creator of “Television, the Drug of a Nation” in a TV beer commercial — I was just glad Michael Franti and his label sponsors at Anti- were getting paid. Even back when he thought his Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy were doing for Chomsky what Public Enemy did for Farrakhan, Franti was warmer than most ideologues, with a heart that was always bigger — and more reliable — than his brain. And with his major-label outfit, Spearhead, Franti crafted an uncommonly humanist “political rap,” translating social awareness into a very Bay Area funk groove without enshrouding himself within the incense-clogged aura of superiority endemic to the genre. Not for nothing did U2 pick him to open the Zoo TV tour.

But though only someone who took the politics of pleasure seriously could have created “Say Hey (I Love You),” Franti himself isn’t what makes the song soar. His lyric struggles too hard to justify his bubbly mood, not just apologizing “I don’t want to write a love song for the world/ I just want to write a song about a boy and a girl” but noting the “junkies on the corner.” Cherine Anderson’s warm supporting vocal, however, bolsters Franti’s own serrated voice, while Sly & Robbie tauten his frothy, late-period dorm-room skank. And much love to Raleigh Neal II, whose piano cuts against the beat every which way.

No wonder somebody figured the song would make somebody want to drink Corona Light, watch Valentine’s Day, and root for the Giants in the 2010 Series (way to capitalize on that Willie Mays connection). Disposable? Maybe. Hiphopritical? Like Big Bill Haywood used to say, nothing’s too good for the working class. And as far as heroes go, I stopped looking for hip-hop to serve up such mythical creatures a long time past.

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