Sage Francis and Special Teams
Providence's Sage Francis is showing once again why he's one of underground hip-hop's finest MCs: the first hip-hop artist ever signed to Epitaph, he's about to release A Healthy Distrust, an album thick with snarling rhymes and political rage. He's one of the underground's most visible talents, thanks to a solo album on Anticon and a disc by his group Non Prophets on Lex, and his new disc has already spawned airplay for "Slow Down Gandhi," an anti-dogmatic blast of mid-Iraq-war wrath. Dropping shortly is the first official single, "Sea Lion" --- a collaboration with alt-country hermit Will Oldham, of all people. The rest of the disc boasts catchy, abstract beats (from Alias, Dangermouse, and Sixtoo, among others), but Distrust doesn't bow to any of hip-hop's established genres.
Which, Sage explains, is part of why he ended up on the world's biggest punk label. "The hip-hop labels that are big enough to handle the demand for my music put out shitty rap records. And I don't want to be in cahoots with those kind of companies. Epitaph showed a genuine interest in what I talk about and how I do my music, whereas the hip-hop labels poked around to see what kind of mold they could fit me into. It was a pleasure and an honor to be the first hip-hop artist signed to Epitaph, and I can't complain about the company I found myself in: Rhymesayers, the Coup, Quannum, Looptroop."
It appears that the Epitaph push is working: tastemaking commercial radio stations including (ahem) WFNX and LA's KROQ as well as quasi-commercial Providence station WBRU are getting into the mix. And college radio, as usual, is all in: according to Pirate! Promotions' Steve Theo, Distrust was the most-added album on the CMJ hip-hop charts the week it went for adds, and it cracked the Top 10 of the Alternative adds list. "It's a first for me," admits Sage of the marketing push. "Even without all of that mess, I was able to sell hundreds of thousands of records. I'm curious to see what happens when a label as big as Epitaph implements its resources." The disc will be in stores February 8, and Sage will celebrate that night with a release party downstairs at the Middle East.
Two-thirds of Boston's newest supergroup, Special Teams, will require no introduction to local hip-hop fans: the godfather of Boston hip-hop, Edo G, and one of the newer generation's brightest lights, Kreators' Jaysaun. The third member won't be slept on for much longer either: his name is Slaine, and his well-traveled path began in Southie, took a detour to New York City, and has returned to Boston, where he's already inked a deal with Lethal Productions, the company run by House of Pain/Limp Bizkit member DJ Lethal. Lethal himself is among the producers attached to the Special Teams project, which expects to drop an album later this year; DJ Premier, Jake One, and Pete Rock are also on board, and cameos may include hardcore vets Freddy Madball and Hatebreed's Jamey Jasta.
"We all know the racial climate of this city has not been the best," says Slaine, explaining the impetus behind Special Teams. "And I know first-hand that I grew up everywhere I went hearing racial slurs from whites and blacks. Hip-hop has done a lot to change that, but here in Boston, it means something to me to do a project like this. Ed is black, and in Roxbury, I am white, and in Southie, Jay is mixed-race and from Dorchester. We all got the ultimate love and respect for each other, and maybe rhyming together is one more brick knocked out of that wall of hate and misunderstanding that has stood so long in this city." In the meantime, Slaine is prepping Original Tracks, Collabos and Jacks, a mix tape compiling guest appearances and sneak previews, with guest slots by Krumbsnatcha, Edo G, Esoteric, Jaysaun, and others. Look for it in the next few weeks: watered-down fake hip-hop has a new enemy.
BY CHRIS RUCKER