Sage Francis: 11 Questions
The outspoken MC responds to our investigative query.
January 04, 2005 - Within the spectrum of underground rap heroes few represent lovelier than the one they call Sage Francis. In true iconoclastic fashion, Francis has carved out a respected name for himself as one of the most vitriolically versatile MCs to come down the microphone wielding pike in quite some time.
Thanks to the knockout combo of his official debut album Personal Journals, released on the Anticon label in 2002, numerous "official" bootleg CDs and tapes, and a live show that is nothing short of incendiary, Francis has guaranteed himself a spot as one of the most important rappers of the past decade.
With the imminent release of his official sophomore album, A Healthy Distrust on February 8th on Epitaph Records, Francis may finally be elevated out of the depths of the underground and into the consciousness of the well-informed, just-left-of-center mainstream music revelers.
We caught up with Francis and hit him with our barrage of 11 Questions. What follows are his unadulterated answers.
1) Who is your favorite superhero or super villain and why?
Sage Francis: I was never ever into comics or superheroes. But the Million Dollar Man was one of my favorite bad guy wrestlers. He couldn't win a title belt so he made one himself. I loved that. The million dollar belt. That is so representative of celebrity culture. These motherf@#kers are always throwing parties and award shows for themselves. As if these awards have any true merit. It's the best. I watch these award shows and watch the good guys get the sh!t beat out of them."
2) What is your favorite late night snack when you're in the studio or out on tour and why?
Sage Francis: I am a sucker for tortilla chips with salsa or hummus. I think it tastes great, but the chips are doing a number on my belly. Must...not...eat.
3) Who or what are your non-musical influences and why?
Sage Francis: There are no major non-musical influences, but I would name Helen Keller as one. She is a testament to human capabilities by overcoming incredible amounts of adversity and excelling beyond anybody's expectations. Her work is impressive.
4) What is the motto you live by?
Sage Francis: "In business you don't get what you deserve; you get what you negotiate." This is something I have to put into consideration with every facet of business that I handle, which is a lot these days. I have learned the hard way through and through. The one motto that has always stuck with me is "Without struggle there is no progress" by Fredrick Douglas. That is important to remember in the roughest of times, because there's a silver lining as long as you freak the situation correctly.
5) Which do you prefer, performing music live or creating it in the studio and why?
Sage Francis: I used to love doing both, now I approach both with a certain amount of reservation. I would like to believe that once I have my own studio I will enjoy recording much more. Right now I am recording on someone else's schedule as the clock tics and that takes away from the experience. Performing live is great because it exists in that moment only. This allows for some very special things to happen. I don't prefer either though.
6) Do you remember the first concert you ever went to?
Sage Francis: I attended the Run's House Tour in 1987. Run DMC, EPMD, Public Enemy, Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. LL Cool J was there too.
7) Do you remember the first album you ever bought, was it on CD, vinyl, cassette or 8-track and why did you buy it?
Sage Francis: The first tape I ever got was Lou Reed's Walk on the Wild Side. I really loved that song and my dad got the tape for me. Then I got Michael Jackson's Thriller because that sh!t was ruling the world at the time. The first tape I actually bought was Run DMC's Raising Hell because I was in love with hip-hop and that was the most accessible rap tape at the moment.
8) What is your favorite album and why?
Sage Francis: My preferences keep changing, but currently Harvest is my favorite album. I love the vulnerability of Neil Young's voice and the simplicity in his lyrics. It is very honest sounding. Mixing that with acoustic guitar and an orchestra...and a smidgen of ignorance...it's the best. His voice, the music and the recordings are perfectly flawed.
9) Name a musician that you've always wanted to work with but haven't yet and why.
Sage Francis: Working with Public Enemy with the Bomb Squad on production would be a dream session. To me, that combination was the pinnacle of hip-hop. It was aggressive, funny, intelligent, abrasive, urgent and poignant. Hip-hop was concentrated at the time, allowing many events and albums to become a communal experience shared among hip-hop lovers. You don't have a community like that any more. I might choose to do a song with Bob Dylan over Public Enemy.
10) If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be?
Sage Francis: I would eliminate the notion that there is some kind of magic going on behind the scenes that people should strive to tap into. It makes people delusional and results in a lot of wack music. People have a false idea that they need a label in order to be legit. Bullocks.
11) What has been your most memorable or most f@#ked-up gig to date and why?
Sage Francis: Whooooo. Wow, I have a bunch to pick from. Ummmm. Well, I gotta pick one out of the many, but this isn't the most f@#ked up gig, it's just a funny story. One of the first times I got a chance to perform was at a Woonsocket block party. My aunt had a connection with whoever was running this thing and they said I could perform on a side stage. I was about 14 at the time, but a few people knew who I was because of some battles and talent shows. Well...I tried incorporating a bunch of my friends into this show of mine. We recorded all the instruments onto a cassette tape. There were no CDs back then, nor did we have enough money to get DATS. So....we put the whole set on cassette tape. We drive to the block party and there's about 100 people there to see the hip-hop show. The stage we were supposed to perform on was the bed of a truck. And there was no sound system WHAT SO EVER. So...daddy drove me home and I grabbed our house speakers and my fisher price mics. By the time we got back to the block party I realize I forgot the cassette tape that had our show on it. So we figured we would rap and sing over nothing. It was all a mess. Nothing ended up happening. The house speakers and shit didn't work. I think we rapped a capella for a moment and then decided to call it quits. It was a big disappointment of mine, because I realized that the magic I had been witnessing for so long actually came into being through planning and legwork.
The Ubiquitous Bonus Questions
What is your kindred spirit animal and why?
Sage Francis: Definitely the elephant. There is no doubt about it. I watch them and identify on many levels. If there's ever a special on elephants I have to sit down and watch it. They always make me cry. It's weird. I love them.
What is your favorite book?
Sage Francis: I enjoyed It by Stephen King a lot. Fast Food Nation rocked my world and explained so many things I had questions about in regards to our culture and how it got this way.
By Spence D.