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December 8, 2008

Paper 1

During the early 1990’s, Oakland native Michael Franti formed the political hip-hop group the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. On September 2nd, 2008, during one of the most politically tense times St. Paul has seen, Michael Franti came to play an acoustic set on the lawn of the capitol with the Republican National Convention happening in the background. This is an analysis of that show.

Live Performance Analysis
Matt Carter-10/01/2008-Mus1910W
During the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, many artists performed and many shows were held protesting the convention. One in particular was the Ripple Effect Day Festival, a daylong concert held on the second of September (9/2/2008) on the lawn of the State Capitol. Free of charge, open to the public, and lasting from 12:30 PM to 7 PM, it showcased all different styles of music with a common message of “Propelling a new wave of progressive action outside the RNC.?1 Beyond the two stages of music; there were artwork, poetry readings, and information booths for political issues and organizations. Although I do not know for sure, I do not think any of the performers got paid for playing. The organization that set it up was a local non-profit started by three motivated young people interested in social change and sustainability.
I was very impressed with the diverse lineup they were able to get for this festival. The headliners on the main stage were Michael Franti, the headman of the popular group Michael Franti and Spearhead, a musical fusion of hip-hop, rock, reggae, soul, and many other styles, Dead Prez, a political hip-hop group, Anti-Flag, a pop-punk band from Pittsburgh, Wookiefoot, a weird jam type band from the Twin Cities area, and Matisyahu, a Jewish Rabbi who performs reggae type music. Along with these performers were a few guest speakers, including famous explorer Will Steger. Some other notable performers were Rage Against the Machine, who were unannounced on the bill for the show but made a guest performance at the end.
One of the most astounding features of this concert was the setting. As we approached the stage, the first thing we saw were hundreds of riot cops surrounding the perimeter of the block, waiting and ready for trouble to strike. This presence of riot cops definitely added a whole new element to this concert that I have never seen before, and it was the opposite of tension. The police presence seemed to add a bigger sense of community to the crowd. People did not want to give the cops what they were waiting for, they wanted to show them they were all together to have a good time and make peace, not violence. It was also really interesting that the State Capitol was in the background the whole time. Not only is the Capitol a pretty building, it also was able to established the political feeling of the whole thing. It was hard to forget we were all gathered to rally for social change when we were on the lawn of the capitol, the place the change apparently happens.
I was only able to make it for the end of Dead Prez but I saw all of Michael Franti, who was the main performer I was going for. Because of the diversity of the performers, the crowd was also very diverse. There were hippies, hipsters, hip-hop kids, punks, old people, and young people. Pretty much everyone imaginable was in attendance, and no one group outweighed the other. There were no more men than women, and many races were represented. Franti sings a lot about diversity and loving everyone, which makes him more appealing to all sorts of races and classes. Because of the message this concert had, there were no problems between anyone that I saw. There was a “love everybody? feeling that loomed over the crowd, governing the way people acted. Everybody watched out for each other and there was no ruff housing I saw at all. One example of this was a man standing elevated on the side of the stage. Once he saw I was right behind him, he gladly stepped down and moved over, allowing me to get a better view of the stage.
The set I saw started right after the Dead Prez performance. As much as I like Dead Prez, they do have some songs that have violent aspects and that contain radical political messages. They are also a group that is good at starting riots, so you could tell the riot cops were waiting for something to happen. However, at this time, there was no more than a thousand people there, and only half of them were watching Dead Prez, so a riot seemed pretty unlikely. After Dead Prez ended, a DJ on stage spun some records and waited for Will Steager, the explorer who was there to talk about his trip to Antarctica and the climate crisis. Steager spoke for about thirty minutes and the crowd quietly listened. Steager spoke against the Republicans and how they weren’t fixing the problems with our climate; they were just making it worse. There were many times during his speech when people would clap and yell loudly for what he was saying. When Steager finished, he left the stage and the stage was set up for Michael Franti.
Coming to this show, I was not sure what to expect from Franti. He normally plays with Spearhead, but the flyers for the show only said “Michael Franti,? and so there was no Spearhead. Instead it was just Franti with an acoustic guitar and a few electric guitars in the back, and one other guitar player playing back up for Franti. I am not sure who this other person was but to the best of my knowledge, having seen Spearhead play before, he was not part of Michael Franti’s normal band. They also both had stomp pads on the floor that they could press on with their foot to create a bass sound like a deep hip-hop bass drum.
The crowd got much larger once Franti started playing, and there seemed to be a few hundred more people in attendance at this time. I was standing in the very front, but being a tall person, I was able to see the back area of the lawn fill up considerably when Franti took the stage. There were still a lot of Dead Prez fans in the crowd but it filled up with a lot more people who looked like those you would find at a jam-band music festival. Right when Franti played his first song, everyone around me, including me, started dancing. People just forget about all their cares and all the riot-cop nonsense going on around them and started dancing and having a good time. This was a shift from the Dead Prez set where it was more head bobbing and hand waving than a dance party.
I was impressed that Franti was able to move the crowd so much even though he was playing acoustic. He only played songs off his most recent CD with Spearhead, titled Yell Fire and a few new songs. Yell Fire is a very produced CD with complex instrumentals that make the guitar in the tracks sound obsolete compared to the drums and keyboards, so it was surprising to me that he could be so powerful and danceable with two guitars and some bass hits.
He played a few songs right away and then he stopped and talked to the crowd. One thing that must be noted about Michael Franti is that he is very political. Every song on Yell Fire has some underlying political theme. Knowing that, it is easy to imagine he would take the time to preach some politics, seeing as how he was outside the RNC while it was going on. So, often- times after a song, Franti would talk for a few minutes, telling stories of when he was in Baghdad playing music for soldiers and citizens, or telling us about the ways to approach these problems in the world and fix them. He also talked a lot about equality, and how people need to love everybody from every country. This really gave the crowd a sense of community, a gathering of people with the same beliefs about social change, all dancing and jamming out to the same music outside on a nice day. The stories he told also seemed to tie in to the songs he was about to play, which made the stories a good addition to his set. This story telling made this show one of a kind. You could see Michael Franti play on tour with Spearhead and it would be the same thing every day, but for this concert, being at the RNC, Franti left the stage plans and did something new and unique.
Franti had no set list on stage with him but he seemed to know the order in his head. However you could tell he threw a few other songs in the mix on the spot because you could see him speaking to his backing guitarist, telling him what to play, and sometimes showing him the chords real quick. The best way to describe the music that Franti was playing would be to imagine a well produced, reggae-pop song stripped into two guitars. Often times this would not be able to carry a whole set, but due to Franti’s unique voice which is raspy yet soulful, he is able to hold the stage with just guitars and singing alone. Most of the songs he played were either slow and emotional, which is typical of a acoustic pop song these days, or upbeat and danceable. Using the stomp pads on the floor to produce a bass sound, Franti was able to produce a deep beat to his acoustic music that made it all the more uplifting. On this day, Franti’s set seemed more poppy and folky than the normal rhythm heavy, bass heavy, reggae-pop music on his CD. The music was all performed really well. His backing guitarist would do some good solos, often turning into jams, and Franti kept the crowd entertained by being playful and energetic on stage. Every song he played that the crowd knew, the crowd sang along to, and everyone seemed really tuned in to the performance.
At the end of the last song, Franti started dancing and he finished it off by jumping into the crowd. He landed right next to where I was standing and started giving hugs and shaking hands with the people in the audience. The DJ started to spin some more records while they got the stage ready for the punk band Anti-Flag, and a lot of people swarmed around Franti. A good amount of people also left the crowd at this time, a there seemed to be a lot more people than before Franti played.
Franti’s set had a huge impact on the crowd. Not only was everyone chanting for another song, which never happened, but everyone seemed so uplifted and happy. People were dancing while walking away from the crowd and I even heard one guy tell his friend that he thought this concert was more like a “dance-party love orgy.?2 It also conveyed a political message in a really powerful way. I was moved by some of the stories he told and I feel many people around me were also.
Although the crowd at the Franti show was very diverse, everyone fit in. I didn’t see one person that I thought looked out of place, even the punk kids with huge Mohawks were just a piece of the community established at this show. The best way I could describe what this show was is by calling it a celebration of peace. It was a dance party with a message. It may be weird to consider this a celebration seeing as how the show was established as a protest of sorts against the RNC, yet the concert was uplifting and spiritual, a celebration of the peace between the people in that space at that time. No particular class, gender, race, or age was celebrated, they all were.

Paper 3

In the world of political hip-hop, two elements that have come to make it a unique style of sound and expression are the raw and uncensored lyrics and the faster and edgier instrumentals. This can be seen in songs by early political hip-hop groups, such as Public Enemy, and it continues to be present today in songs by groups such as The Coup or rapper Immortal Technique. In order to understand why political hip-hop has grown in popularity and why people consider it to have any appeal, we can look at the song “Everythang? by Oakland based hip-hop group The Coup. In short, “Everythang? has everything a typical political hip-hop song is made of, fast paced beats, fast and edgy lyrics and even displays of turntable-ism and sampling. On top of the traditional hip-hop elements, it also has a new and unique electronic feel that is catching a lot of popularity in the hip-hop genre.

In the world of political hip-hop, two elements that have come to make it a unique style of sound and expression are the raw and uncensored lyrics and the faster and edgier instrumentals. This can be seen in songs by early political hip-hop groups, such as Public Enemy, and it continues to be present today in songs by groups such as The Coup or rapper Immortal Technique. In order to understand why political hip-hop has grown in popularity and why people consider it to have any appeal, we can look at the song “Everythang? by Oakland based hip-hop group The Coup. In short, “Everythang? has everything a typical political hip-hop song is made of, fast paced beats, fast and edgy lyrics and even displays of turntable-ism and sampling. On top of the traditional hip-hop elements, it also has a new and unique electronic feel that is catching a lot of popularity in the hip-hop genre.
There are two sides to the song “Everythang?. The first side is the musical side, which lays with Pam the Funkstress, the female producer for the Coup who composes the instrumentals. The other side is the lyrical side, which lies with Boots Riley, an emcee from Oakland who is head of the Oakland Marxist Party and a strong political activist. While both play a strong role in the composition of the song, they both do very different things to make it happen. Pam the Funkstress sets the mood with a beat and Boots Riley adds the meaning to it all with his politically conscious lyrics.
The form of the song “Everythang? is fairly simple. Like most hip-hop songs, it is in 4/4 time and broken down into two verses that are followed by a common chorus. Throughout the whole song, the drum beat maintains its speed and the bass drum plays on all four beats throughout every measure in the whole song, however the melodies change between the chorus and verses. Also during the chorus, there is no rapping like there is in during the chorus, but instead it is a group of people rapping the same four lines twice. Overall, there are no major transitions or changes in the song that change the mood, and it stays consistently beating for the 3 minutes and 35 seconds that it lasts.
The very beginning of the song starts with nothing but a sample of a man talking and a soft droning electronic pad playing in the background. The man says “it was just about the time of the show when the hinges went to flyin’ off da motherfuckin’ door? and then very abruptly, six and a half seconds into the song, the upbeat drums come in and melody from the chorus starts with another scratched up vocal sample to make up the intro of the song. After the intro, which lasts eight measures, the first chorus plays for eight measures. Following the chorus is the first 16 measure verse, and then the chorus, one more verse, the chorus, an eight measure bridge that is the same as the intro, one last chorus, and then a 16 measure outro that contains the scratching of a steady synth tone by Pam the Funkstress.
One of the most interesting aspects of the song is the rhythm and drum beat, which plays in slightly varying ways throughout the whole song. Most hip-hop drum beats are structured so that the bass drum falls on the first and third beat of the measure and the snare on the second and fourth, however the song “Everythang? more so mimics a typical dance or electronic beat, with the bass drum falling on the first, second, third, and fourth, the snare falling mostly on the second and fourth beat, and the hi hat on every whole and half beat. This repeating rhythmic pattern plays throughout the entire song. What this accomplishes is a more upbeat, danceable and energizing feel, which fits well with the “stand up and do something? theme of the song. Another interesting aspect of the beat that gives it an edgy feel is that it is at 105 BPM, unlike most traditional hip-hop songs which are anywhere from 85 to 95 BPM. By making the beat faster than traditional hip-hop songs, the Coup is able to include a unique and stimulating feel into their songs just as Public Enemy did many years earlier.
The sounds which compose the drum beat of the song are similar to many hip-hop songs with the addition of some instruments not so commonly heard in a hip-hop composition. What must be noted is that the drums were not recorded live but actually sequenced using some sort of computer software or an MPC. Where Pam the Funkstress gets her sounds from in unknown, however it can be assumed that are sampled from other artists with the intention of being undetectable or from sounds she previously recorded herself. The two sounds that stand out in the drum beat are the triangle hits that fall on the first and second beat of every other measure in the song and also the timpani hits that are played variously throughout the verse and chorus. There are also electronic sounding claps that play throughout the song and spots where Pam the Funkstress puts the sound of an open hi hat during the third and fourth beat of the measure during the chorus. Because of the fact that the song was mapped out and sequenced electronically, there is not an organic feel to it but rather and sort of mechanical and electric feel to it. Also because of this sequencing software, all the beats and measures are the same length (2.2 seconds).
Unlike many hip-hop songs, there is not prominent bass line in the song “Everythang.? Instead the bass lies in the deeper pitched sharp synthesizer tone that plays throughout the whole song. This same synth tone also provides the melody for the verses of the song. The same melody repeats in each measure of the verse and throughout the chorus as well, however it is overpowered by a higher pitched synth tone during the chorus. These two synth tones compose the two melodies that play throughout the whole song, with only one of the melodies playing during the verse. The synth that plays during the chorus has a much more electronic sounding feel, as if it were sounds a robot or a futuristic computer would make, than the synth that plays during the verses. Both sounds that make up the melodies throughout the song are very sharp and short. During the chorus, the melody consists of very short and frequent synth hits that move very quickly in all directions on the scale. In a way it almost sounds hectic with all the synth noise, timpani rolls, and claps during the chorus, however this is most likely what the Coup intended. During the verses, the synth is played simpler and the music allows the listener to focus more on Boots Riley’s rap than the music. Also during the verse, the melody sometimes varies slightly by one or two notes, which could hint to the fact that Pam the Funkstress improvised a little while recording the synth line over the drum track.
All of the sounds were most likely recorded electronically, with the use of a sequencing program and MIDI technology. What Pam the Funkstress probably did was take a sequenced drum beat and record synthesizer over it via a MIDI keyboard. To make it even more solid, she probably had the help of various other electronic triggers and controllers. After the instrumental was completed, it was probably shown to Riley for him to create lyrics to go along with it. They then recorded the song and Pam the Funkstress did the final production and mastering.
As important as the instrumental is for the song, it would be meaningless without Boots Riley’s lyrics. “Everythang?, like most of the Coup’s songs, is very political, and in this case, a promise of taking over and starting an uprising. The line that ends each verse, “every broke motherfucker gonna form a gang, and when we come we takin’ everything? pretty much sums up what Boots Riley is trying to say. Although this may sound like an intense statement, Riley waters down the seriousness of it all by saying “everybody throw your lighters up? in the chorus, which gives the song a more light hearted party feel. He also says “this is your motherfucking party? at the end of the chorus. This party tone that is set in the chorus blends well with the instrumental at the time because of its energizing, electronic, and pulsing beat.
The lyrics during the verses also contemplate the music well. With a beat at 105 BPM, it is difficult to be able to form complex lyrical rhymes, so Riley keeps it short and simple by starting every measure (with a few exceptions) in the verses with the word “every.? By doing this, Riley is able to create a recognizable phrase in the song that enables the listener to get engaged on first listen and also able to comfortably rap to the fast speed. The truly meaningful part, and the only part that makes “Everythang? a political hip-hop song and not just a normal hip-hop song, is what Riley says following “every.? Lines such as “every banker is a fucking thief,? “every cop is a corrupt one,? and “every slave story present tense? all add a strong political meaning to the song that create just as much power and more emotion than the instrumental. Although Riley does not go into detail about why things are such, he is able to fit 32 politically charged lines throughout both verses. What is most interesting within the verse is how the music and lyrics contemplate each other. The radical and unique ideas expressed by Riley in the verses of “Everythang? mimic the feeling of the unique and supercharged beats of Pam the Funkstress.
Along with the music that composes the instrumental and the rapping, there are also two vocals samples that appear throughout the song. One is a sample of a man saying “Dub your shit,? and this appears numerous times right before the chorus throughout the song. Another vocal sample that is used is a sample of someone saying “superior sound quality.? Unlike the other vocal sample, Pam the Funkstress scratches it up to instead sound like “s-s-s-su-superior sound quality.? This appears not only in the intro of the song but also after the third chorus. The use of scratching with this sample and the synth tone and the end of the song adds another element of hip-hop to the mix and helps the Coup exemplify their music genre to the fullest.
With the instrumental created by Pam the Funkstress and the lyrics by Boots Riley, the Coup is able to display the perfect match of musical and lyrical talent in the song “Everythang? that exemplifies political hip-hop to the fullest. The fast paced and aggressive beats fit perfectly with the radical political message, which is what gives political hip-hop so much appeal these days. It may never be that every broke person forms a gang and takes over, however the Coup makes up for this fact with a powerful political song that represents the same thing that a takeover would if it did happen. It is this rebellious and edgy message that the song “Everythang? posses that makes it one of the best political hip-hop songs in the last 10 years.