True to their name, The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy were one and done. They left behind one album, Hypocrisy is the Greatest Luxury, a damning cultural critique of U.S. culture over a unique synthesis of hip hop, industrial, jazz poetry, and punk.
My only beef with the Heroes is that they only stuck around for one album1. Michael Franti has gone on to do Spearhead and solo albums, Charlie Hunter went on to do jazz, and Rono Tse seems to have disappeared entirely. Perhaps they said all they needed to say on Hypocrisy.
They said a lot on this album. They cover censorship, compromises of fame, the Gulf War (the first one), television, immigration, and much more. And Franti doesn’t just turn the critical gaze outward, he also looks at some of his own flaws as well.
“Satanic Reverses” opens the album with a rapid-fire attack about issues in the headlines in the early 90s: the Piss Christ controversy, the fatwa against Salman Rushdie (the song takes its name from Satanic Verses), big bank bailouts, and more. Musically, it sports sampled chants, drumbeats, horns, assorted “industrial” sounds, and Franti’s vocals.
My first exposure to the Heroes was via MTV’s 100 Minutes and “Television, the Drug of the Nation.” Ironic, I suppose. The music and samples for this are brilliant, and the lyrics are thought-provoking. Snippets of TV show and movie dialog punctuate the song, you’ll spot Kelsey Grammar from Frazier and a John Candy snippet from Blues Brothers, as well as fragments from televangelist programs. Sadly, things have only changed for the worse since Television was released:
TV, Is it the reflector or the director?
Does it imitate us or do we imitate it?
Because a child watches over 1500 murders
before he’s 12 years old
And we wonder how we’ve created a Jason generation
that learns to laugh rather than abhor the horror
TV is the place where armchair
generals and quarterbacks
can experience first hand
the excitement of video warfare
as the theme song is sung in the background
On “Language of Violence,” the Heroes put a microscope on bullying, racism, homophobia, and paint a bleak picture of two lives ruined. Picture a particularly disturbing episode of Oz as a song, you’ll get the idea. It’s a brutal song, but musically compelling. It has a slow, hypnotic and steady beat under Franti’s steady delivery.
Franti and company understand that the personal is also political, and they don’t shy away from getting personal. On “Socio-Genetic Experiment,” Franti addresses being multi-racial (African-American, Native American, German, Irish) and adopted by a white family. He calls out racism and his own perceived hypocrisies.
“Music and Politics” takes a sharp turn, musically, from the rest of the album with a light jazzy sound. Hunter contributes some nimble guitar while Franti takes a few cutting jabs at his own flaws.
The final track on the album, “Water Pistol Man” is also looks at a common problem many of us suffer from:
Let’s build a bigger telescope
So that we can see things more up close
Farther away from where we really are
I was up the whole night before
Reading books about places I’ll probably never go
And those aren’t good things to know about
When I feel with my heart, I know in my mind
I should say with my lips
But don’t does that make you feel upset?
I should know that the power of one man seems like a small squirt
When he aims at the flames of the whole earth
But the fire starts at home…
This is sung/spoken over a relentless drum track and repeated melody on keyboard, and some additional atmospheric instruments added in. Also some muted but delicious guitar work. It closes out the album on a melancholy note.
I jumped over the second-to-last cut on the album, though. The Heroes take the Dead Kennedys‘ “California Über Alles” and make it their own with one of my favorite covers of all time.
Rather than just re-doing the original, the Heroes updated the lyrics to match current events and completely overhauled the song to fit their purposes. But they also pay homage to the original by sampling (and speeding up) the original chorus from the Dead Kennedys’ version. It is utterly fucking brilliant, is what it is.
Note that if you check this album out on Google Play or Spotify, some of the tracks will be missing. Google Play misses the final two tracks (“Water Pistol Man” and “California”), while Spotify is missing four tracks. Presumably there’s some licensing issues around a few of the tracks.
This is yet another reason I still buy physical media (and then convert to digital) – I won’t wake up tomorrow and find out that my favorite albums have disappeared, been “updated” to remastered versions that don’t match the versions I’ve come to love, or random lost tracks due to licensing issues.
But I digress…
After getting hands on Hypocrisy I became an instant fan of the band, and was thrilled to see them open for U2 on the Zooropa tour. I kept an eye out for more, but nothing else popped up. I’ve checked in on Franti’s work, and some of it’s pretty good, but it bears little resemblance to this. If you know of other bands with a similar sound, I’d be keen to learn more.
That’s my warning – you may find yourself addicted to this, but with little chance of getting a second fix. Still, it’s worth the cravings, you can always just put it on again.