Hey punkers, did you ever think you'd rue the day when you heard an MC spit fire over a Bad Religion track? Hey indie kids, when would you ever expect Will Oldham to provide the hook for a hip-hop song? In the world of Sage Francis, scenarios like these are as right as the rain.
Since taking leave from his brief but prominent stint in the Anticon crew, the Rhode Island-based rhyme animal has been carving his own unique niche in the underground rap game. The anti-establishment tone to Francis' microphone approach, coupled with a deft socio-political lyrical agenda, has earned him a reputation as a sort of Phil Ochs for the b-boy set. It's a precedent that
takes on an even greater role now that he's the first hip-hop artist to be signed to Epitaph proper, following in the footsteps of Rhymesayers' distribution deal with the seminal punk label.
There is a definite sense of working class ethos to "A Healthy Distrust" that makes it feel right at home alongside such landmark punk albums as Bad Religion's "Generator" and Rancid's "Life Won't Wait," primarily his unconventional attitude toward the hip-hop standard. There aren't many MC's
who are calling up Bonnie "Prince" Billy for collaborative opportunites, but Sage and Oldham work as swimmingly as Jigga and Pharrell on "Sea Lion".
It can also be safe to assume his "Jah Didn't Kill Johnny" at the close of the record is officially the only tribute to The Man in Black hip-hop has offered to date. Elsewhere, Francis delivers some of his most poignant and spirited rants on the Clear Channel-bashing opening number "The Buzz Kill" and the politically charged "Slow Down Gandhi." There are certain instances when Francis' politics overreach, like on the annoying "Dance Monkey," but for the most part, "A Healthy Distrust" is this artist's most impressive album yet.
By Ron Hart