Where do I begin? How can I possibly expect to place words eloquently and informatively in the fashion of my muse? Sage Francis has made nothing but good music in the past, this is true. However his latest album, A Healthy Distrust, has finally drawn me to the conclusion that I will never doubt this artist. Dependable artists are few and far between but if feels good to believe in someone with raw talent and constant focus. With three full-length albums, Francis has established himself in the hip-hop world. One notable quality about his work is his ability to balance the expected with the experimental. Anyone who's heard Sage knows they can expect to be spun in terminology circles. He uses constantly relevant rhymes that seem to tie one song to another and before you know it everything he's saying clicks into place. You may have noticed his favorite anecdotes, like how he takes three words and uses the middle one to transition from one saying to another, "My feeble attempt of being a strong big brother doing father figure eights." Or "She's got me doin' pirouettes over her guilt trip wire." The exciting part is that while Sage is still the reliable great artist who knows how to work with language, he also preserves novelty with each new album. It's like the honeymoon is never over. Personal Journals allowed Francis to take his whole life apart and reconstruct it through properly placed words and rhymes. This was probably where Sage acquired most of his "indie" fans because of the album's spoken word or beat-poetry feel. Hope gave Francis the opportunity to show off his "real" hip-hop knowledge and skills. We are brought, of course, to February's A Healthy Distrust. By far his most comprehensive and diverse effort to date, the album brings us full circle through Sage's delightfully anticipated vocabulary magic tricks and never ceases to surprise us with his enveloping ability to rap.
Sage Francis has never been repentant about his beliefs, and he uses his music to share them with the world. His earlier albums let us in the know about his vegetarianism, political beliefs, being straight edge and general social ideals. A Healthy Distrust seems to especially have been a weight off of his shoulders however. By the end of the album he's targeted God, Bush, women, men, the rich, and war. Most frequently he draws special attention to the abundance of small-minded, undereducated people that make up this country. Every track seems to pound with intense content and what may seem cheery eventually reveals itself as polka-dotted euphemisms for something graver than you thought. What sets it apart from Personal Journals is the advancement in production and his focus on macro issues. That in mind, it's easy to see why we are left with a less gloomy feeling after listening to A Healthy Distrust. It's a lot easier to point and laugh at people who suck when it isn't you who's the exhibit.
Francis also maintains his indie aesthetic this time by incorporating folk artist Will Oldham. "Sea Lion" is the track's title, one of the most melodic, beautiful and purely haunting songs Francis has ever done. Calling attention to some of his idols outside of the hip-hop world also broadens the audience possibilities for Sage. He references the work of Jack Kerouac, and pays homage to the late Mr. Johnny Cash on "Jah Didn't Kill Johnny."
I shudder to take on the responsibly of words about such a lyrical genius. It's especially difficult because I wish I could just write, "Seriously people, just go buy this album and read along with every word." I could never say it better than the Sage himself. A Healthy Distrust reverberates both of Francis's earlier albums as different as they may be. He effectively combines compassion and contempt, poetry and beats, poise and vigor. It is with extreme comfort that I declare Sage Francis a great and dependable musician. I will not cringe when he releases his next album from fear that he will suddenly blow. The thought of him being any less than exceptional will not cross my mind. Personal Journals and Hope introduced me to an incredibly intellectual budding hip-hop artist. Between those and a collection of his early radio spots I knew something big was about to happen. A Healthy Distrust is the album that confirmed it for me...and P.S. It already happened.
By Alex Austin