Rating: 4 Stars
I remember when I heard of Epitaph signing Sage Francis. My first reaction wasn't so much "what the hell" as it was "who the hell?" See, my blissfully narrow Winamp playlist never really had any hip-hop on it. It wasn't so much that I didn't like it as my knowledge of the genre, like many of the general public, was the dime-a-dozen artists in rotation on MTV and BET. My first introduction to Sage was on one of the Punk-o-Rama compilations with his post-9/11 "Makeshift Patriot." Needless to say, I was an instant fan.
So out comes his album following the fantastic Personal Journals (this isn't counting the Sage/Joe Beats collaboration Non-Prophets). A Healthy Distrust takes up where Sage left off, with brutally honest, socially aware lyrics that seem to read straight off the front page.
The album opens with "The Buzz Kill" which is almost an introduction of sorts to the rest of the album, roughly touching on various political themes like "I freedom kiss the French for their political dissent / like muah, I do it with tongue this time" all the while over a very hard and aggressive beat that suits the song perfectly. The genius behind this MC is that, while Eminem gets all the credit for being one of the more biting rappers, Sage takes no prisoners with the whole album in a wittier form that Eminem can only dream of. In the song "Slow Down Gandhi," he may be 'pistol whipping cops for hip-hop,' but the underlying theme towards the end is a direct attack on liberals who sit back and whine; "it's the same who complain about the global war / but can't overthrow the local joker that they voted for."
On the first listen, many of the one-liners go straight over one's head, but the beauty of A Healthy Distrust is that with each listen, the album gets that much better. It's like watching a movie over and over and catching little directing/cinematography tricks that make you appreciate it more. Obviously, this isn't your typical hip-hop album that is going to get everyone up dancing and talking about bitches and hoes. Even the song that seems most suitable to this "Dance Monkey" is a Beastie Boys-like track that still has more I.Q. than most of the hip-hop community combined.
A Healthy Distrust is by all rights a fantastic album, but I felt a bit lacking compared to Personal Journals. The lyrics just don't seem to be as much of a personal story, and that was a huge appeal for me when I was getting into Sage. Then again, this album is by far much more accessible for people who are looking to get into him and is by no rights a bad album at all. Really, some of the best hip-hop I have heard in a while. Now, that might not seem like I am saying much, but my musical tastes have grown a bit more varied since the introduction.