Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

Michael Franti & Spearhead – Say Hey (I Love You)

Outspoken political hip-hopper unexpectedly cracks the US top 40…


Martin Kavka: At 43, Michael Franti is probably the oldest person to have a US Top 40 hit this year. But that’s not nearly as shocking as the fact that program directors have taken to this bit of nu-reggae, not a popular genre on US radio. Is it because its I-love-you-but-by-the-way-I-must-be-going-now lyric is light on commitment? Is it because it’s positioned halfway between reggae and house? I can’t quite tell, but this is a rare case in which I’d rather not try to analyze it too much.

Hillary Brown: It’s a bit Jimmy Soul, but then it’s a bit Jimmy Soul. Catchy, perky, easily slottable into a film montage of zanily doing the dishes or something. These all work both ways.

Chuck Eddy: Man, back when I was making Disposable Heroes of Hysterectomy and Disposable Heroes of Hippopotami jokes on my 1992 Pazz & Jop ballot, I sure didn’t expect Michael Franti would be blowing up Top 40 radio with a Wyclef-doing-“Don’t Worry Be Happy” move 17 years later — not even one featuring junkies in the corner alley, right out of “The Message.” Suppose this makes Spearhead the most archetypal “political band with one pop hit” since the glory days of Chumbawamba. And if anybody knows whether my wife’s Beatnigs LP is worth money now, I’ll pass the word on to her.

Martin Skidmore: Far from the earnest conscious rap I remember them for, this is a cute party record with a very Caribbean feel – its insistent chorus beats almost remind me of Shaggy’s “Oh Carolina”. There’s the odd big word, of course, but it’s fundamentally a simple love song, and the infectiously celebratory mood might appeal to all of the same people who propelled Sean Paul to the top a few years back. I love it, and never thought I’d hear them sound like this.

Andrew Casillas: The cynic in me wants to ignore the sheer hummability of this in favor of decrying the meaningless of it all but, dammit, this is pretty enjoyable. This begs to be played in the world’s most annoying advert, but at least it’s palatable.

Michaelangelo Matos: I find Michael Franti impossible to hate, which isn’t the same thing as easy to love. Cross-pollinating Jack Johnson’s audience with Wyclef Jean’s (even though Franti has been around a lot longer than either) suits him better than rhyming “loophole” with “poophole” back in the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy ever did, and he’s gained real grace as a vocalist: I still recall 2001’s Stay Human with fondness. Nevertheless, this is a little too perfect for the Sesame Street spot that will inevitably follow. It’s indelible, but hard to care about.

Anthony Miccio: I haven’t heard a thing by — or about — this Disposable Hero Of Hiphoprisy since Spearhead’s first album fifteen(!) years ago. So it’s a shock to find Franti on the pop chart, apparently without the help of a ubiquitous ad campaign. Between the smooth vocals (far less strained than what we get from Wyclef) and the sprightly Sly & Robbie production, this is as inoffensive and well-pedigreed as banality gets.

Matt Cibula: I have a deep abiding love for Michael Franti, but I find it very hard to listen to his records; the problem seems to be that he thinks he is a lyricist when his true gift is melody and rhythm. Pretty obvious here, I love the beat and the sounds and the vibe, everything but the god damned words.

Erika Villani: I can only think of one reason why this song — which was released back in 2008, and feels joltingly out of place crammed between T-Pain and Jason DeRulo on the KIIS-FM playlist — is suddenly having a moment: Behold. That video first came out in mid-April, and I first saw it in mid-June, when, after three straight weeks of rain, I tweeted a link to it with the words, “You know what, sun? It’s fine. I don’t need you. I have this.” And by the time I finally saw the sun again, “Say Hey” had become an indispensable part of my summer soundtrack. The last time I listened to it was late August, so when I saw it pop up on the Jukebox, I figured I would give it one last spin to refresh my memory before writing a glowing review. But it turns out all the things that felt so promising when summer began, all the things that made it so perfect for squinting in the sunshine on Coney Island or dancing in a dark bedroom on a hot July night — the solid beat, the slurred vocals, the rollicking piano and reggae flourishes — are a lot less magical on a chilly September day.

5 Responses to “Michael Franti & Spearhead – Say Hey (I Love You)”

  1. Isn’t this a 20 second ring tone puffed up into 3:47 by weak “raps” and a ridiculous amount of repetition? Not my cup of chai.

  2. Nobody with a Bobby McFerrin reference?

  3. I have one up there!!

  4. ah, control+F failed me.

  5. Hearing this on the car radio a few days ago, I convinced myself it could almost be a cross between Lou Bega and Uncle Kracker (which made it at least slightly endearing –partly because, on pop radio in 2009, such a hybrid is a complete anomaly, especially from a mid-fortysomething who has never come within a mile of pop radio before.)