Somewhere between poet extraordinaire Saul Williams and insightful songwriter/rapper/ singer Michael Franti, is a guy from a small place known as Rhode Island. His name is Sage Francis, and if you haven’t heard the name by now, you better ask somebody.
Sage Francis began rapping when he was eight years old. However, it wasn’t until he saw a performance by revolutionary rap group Public Enemy that he knew what his calling was. Though it would be years before he explored that more controversial side of himself—he built his foundation as a witty, battle rap emcee (even winning the exalted Scribble Jam competition in 2000)—he would nevertheless raise the bar for up-and-coming mic wielders of all ages and genres.
URB magazine says “We’re in the hands of a master lyricist…” while Spin magazine raves “Francis is a board-certified microphone doctor.” One listen to his latest album A Healthy Distrust and you will see that these accolades are well deserved. From the opening salvos of the introductory track, “The Buzz Kill,” Francis’ no-holds-barred, in your face lyrical exploration is immediately apparent; grabbing your attention with a verbal barrage and sonic landscape that engages your mind and body.
And he doesn’t let up there.
Equal parts revolution, introspection and reflection, Distrust is the type of album that you not only want to listen to over and over again, but must; for fear of missing something important, insightful, or just plain dope! Check this rhyme from “Escape Artist”: “They never paid attention but I can’t afford to laugh/ because I’m still looking for my break and an autograph for my cast/ but I’m short on staff, so all I ask is for volunteers in the crowd/ to show a little bit of audience participation now/ when I say “HIP” you say, “Shut the fuck up, we ain’t saying shit”/ and I’ll respect it…”
It’s not hard to see why Sage was a respected battle rapper before being born again. And his politics aren’t heavy handed, they’re just not easy to ignore.
Hard hitting gems like “Gunz Yo,” where Francis waxes poetic about his obsessive need for firearms, places this kid firmly in the midst of Tupac-esque brilliance and passion, while eloquently exposing society’s misplaced dependence on these weapons of destruction. “Jah Didn’t Kill Johnny,”Sage’s ode to the late man in black, is a poignant exploration of the life of a music icon as seen through the eyes of a poet. And, “Dance Monkey,” the ironic tale of overt commercialism, is both humorous and unapologetically truthful.
Francis is a songwriter first. And he explores the topics and ideas on this album with reverence, showing a true love of the art form that is hip hop music. Like Kid Rock did on Devil Without a Cause, Francis throws caution to the wind in an effort to make you feel, think, dream, realize, all to the beat of his own horn. And in doing so, he has crafted a record that will someday be hailed as a masterpiece.
Francis may draw comparisons to Slug (of Atmosphere), for the way his voice crawls across the music, but on this album, he also challenges himself, trying on a different delivery for each track. His bio states that “Distrust is more honest and compromising than” anything he’s previously recorded, and that is saying something in this day of cookie-cutter records and re-hashed themes.
A Sage Francis fan? You won’t be disappointed. Never heard of the man before? Well, you better jump on the wagon, its well worth the trip.
D Tha Man is a freelance music scribe and champion of D-Town Hip Hop. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, check local chop shops for a copy of D-Town Sounds: Da Newsletter 4 Hip Hop in The D-Town Area. He is also a regular contributor to The Urban Spectrum Newspaper.