Sage Francis: Concrete Abstractions
This interview was sent in the form of questions to the artist known as Sage Francis and returned to me with all of the questions answered in full. There was no room for expansion of thought or exploration of character through mutual communication and conversation. The answers given were ones that were thought through by the interviewee, almost as if there was a fear of giving a wrong answer. Up until this point, I never thought that interviews had right or wrong answers. Heck---I write for Zero, so being PC is the last thing on my mind. That being said, this is a whole new kind of interview for me. Sage Francis---on the other hand---has his own views on email interviews.
"Up until recently, email interviews were my favorite method of interviewing because I can answer in very specific ways without distraction," says Sage. "Without being distracted by my own voice or any other sound. I do it at my own pace. I don't have to worry about you sitting there and waiting too long while I think of the correct answer. But now that the press has picked up, I have found that the email interviews occupy more time than I can offer so I will have to jump into phone interview territory, where the quickest answer is the one to go with. That answer is almost never the right answer. In person interviews are much, much better than phone interviews because I think I am able to communicate more with my eyes and body language than I am with my words. If an interviewer is a good enough writer they will be able to pick up on those things and convey them to the reader."
Hip-hop has just celebrated a 30-year anniversary. It has continued to grow and change with the times. Has hip-hop had any drastic changes in the past five years? "Present day hip-hop is not a whole hell of a lot different than it was five years ago, except some of the underground acts that were just starting to bubble around that time are now very successful," offers Sage. "The ones who have poked their heads out of the underground seem to be the ones who had something unique to contribute to the format, while the rest are still rapping about the size of their dick and how gay someone they hate is. Nothing has changed in the mainstream except for some of the names."
"Five years ago I was living in Brooklyn, sleeping on a friend's floor (thank you, Mig.)," says Sage. "I was doing anything possible to get heard and be seen, and now I am handling the results of that hard work in a way that will do my past justice. The grind doesn't stop, but the gears switch. The good fight requires many battles to be won, and I'm not even half way finished."
When you look closer at the language chosen---words like "won", "results" and "finished" all stand out. These words exhibit confidence. This ever-present confidence sets Sage apart from the gumball diatribe rapper.
Sage has his views---views that he stands by and is vocal about. One standout trait of Sage that helps set him apart from other musicians in his genre is his ability to convey his convictions. This is where Epitaph comes into play. Epitaph is known for letting their artists keep their integrity, while at the same time exploring all possible avenues to further their artists' careers and broaden their paths. True---the label is known primarily for their past and present punk releases ranging from Bad Religion to Rancid. That's all in the morphing mode now as the label and Sage have successfully joined forces.
"I am able to reach a broader audience by having Epitaph put work into everything that it takes to make an album and artist's career successful," explains Sage. "They have many resources. I, personally, am one great resource, but I decided they were the company I wanted to utilize in making things reach a level that I couldn't do on my own in the amount of time required. There is a sense of urgency I have. I may have already missed that important window, but I don't think so. Whatever the case, I play the bad wrestler pretty well."
Sage also plays on words pretty well. He uses a poetic device called allusion like a master. Roughly translated---an allusion makes reference to an existing entity. On "Gunz Yo"---a song off of his latest release A Healthy Distrust---Sage does a lot of word play using past hooks from songs ("Detachable Penis") to album covers (Nevermind The Bollocks). These are all postmodern devices that very few artists use effectively, yet Sage does it with ease. How did this process come about for the artist?
"My appreciation for music has increased my reference base beyond the normal person's ability to point out every allusion that I make," explains Sage. "And that's fine, as long as the reference makes sense whether its origin is understood or not. It is important to write in a way that has your song working on multiple levels. Not everybody can catch the nuances of alliteration, word play, multi-syllabic rhyme schemes, internal rhyme, etc... but if they catch one thing and they can make sense of it and enjoy it then I have succeeded, even if it is at the most basic level. Many doors. Many hallways."
Sage doesn't encode everything in a twine of poetic devices; he says things outright as well. "My political fire was in mere embers for most of my life. Politics were not discussed in my family whatsoever. But hip-hop made me political. Public Enemy, Paris, X-Clan, 3rd Base, KRS One, Ice-T, NWA, Brand Nubian, and many other rap groups made me question my country and my surroundings in a very political way. That is when the seeds were planted. Those seeds did not come into full blossom until the madness of the first Bush election, followed by 9/11 and the great adversity any free-thinker has had to face ever since." And how about Iraq? Why should we take a stance against our troops in Iraq? "Because you're tax dollars are funding their unjust murder/liberation," answers Sage.
Is a third political party the answer to our current mess? "There are many third parties, but none of them have gained much headway," says Sage. "The system isn't very open to a third party, so if they are going to play that way then we need to replace one of the two parties with a much better option for the people. It doesn't look like the Dems have much of an identity so they might want to think about picking some controversial positions and sticking to them, rather than playing the fence."
When asked if Sage had anything he wanted to convey to the readers of Zero Magazine who have never heard his music before, Sage replied: "My music has many faces to it. Please don't judge me or my music on one song that you have downloaded, because maybe you downloaded an unfinished song of mine from 1995 (they are out there.) Get your hands on an official album and listen to it in its completion...or better yet, come to a show before you make your final judgment. Or don't, you stubborn motherfucker! I am just trying to make this relationship work, goddamnit! Fuck if I care, just don't come crawling back to daddy when your bike falls to pieces while you're trying to cross the street, you ungrateful fuck."
Everyone who is interviewed always has their one thing that they want to get off of their chest and convey to our readers. Every artist has their challenge or vision that they want to get out there into the world. When asked what Sage wants to get off of his chest and have our readers be aware of he responded: "In an effort to enhance consumer awareness, I have partnered with a friend of mine name Bernard Dolan in creating a corporation-watch search engine called knowmore.org (which should be available in February or sooner.)"
"The mission statement for our company is as follows," offers Sage. "'You vote every time you open your wallet!' Every time we purchase a company's product or service, we send the company a message: 'I approve of your product and find it superior to others. I approve of the way in which it was produced, marketed and delivered to me. For these reasons I have chosen to support your company and all of your practices.' In this way we cast a vote with every purchase, whether we realize it or not."
"We as consumers define the strategies and practices that equal success by choosing one product over another," explains Sage. "Business people simply deliver what we ask for! At the moment, the lack of readily accessible information on corporate practices makes it hard to be an educated consumer."
"Knowmore.org Mission Statement," continues Sage. "Knowmore.org is a grassroots community organization that researches, rates and organizes information about corporations in a web-based publication. This is done with the aim of creating and enabling educated consumers. We are not affiliated with any political party or candidate. We believe that all people, regardless of their beliefs, should be allowed and are indeed compelled to support companies which are in their line of thinking, and deny support to those that are not."
by Jason Pepe