Sage Francis A Healthy Distrust
By Tim Den
Wednesday. Apr 06, 9:08 AM
An indestructible IQ storm.
Though this is his first release for Epitaph, Sage Francis has long been a verbal alchemist on his own. A perfect example of how underground hip hop is the closest thing to Black Flag in its heyday, Sage Francis -- like many of his contemporaries such as Atmosphere, Anticon, and the Rhymesayers collective -- has been recording his own music, manufacturing his own CDs, booking his own tours, and spreading the word one person at a time for many years. Over countless tours from basements to halls, he (and the genre) has built an unbelievably large, organic audience not seen since American hardcore's prime. And he does it all on pure artistic merit: an IQ storm of metaphors, tongue-twisters, surreal imagery, and biting sarcasm over indestructible beats. A Healthy Distrust is all of that at their best.
Neither a speed MC (Eyedea) nor "ghetto fabulous," Sage Francis' weapon is his ability to convey a spectrum of thoughts and emotions in left-of-center personifications. One moment the Sun and the Moon are manifestations of good and evil dueling it out on the turntables, the next Sage himself is "Ground Control" trying to contact a lost vessel. In between, his messages are loud and clear (and often funny as fucking hell), whether describing the modern music biz ("poorly developed yet highly advanced, Black music intertwined with the White man's line dance") or the ridiculousness of our current military fetish ("And from here I can see the marines in Hummers on a conquest, underdogs with Wonderbras in a push-up contest"). The literacy and inventiveness of his verses are out of this world, and when combined with the amount of confessionalism, introspection, outward observation, constructive criticism, and overall intelligence that he brings to every topic, you get the feeling that he just might save the power of hip hop's words.
The absolute best comes during "Gunz Yo," as he burns macho rappers' arms race to the ground with blazing satire: "It might remind you of a mic by the way I hold it / straight to the grill like a homophobic rapper / unaware of the graphic nature of phallic symbols / tragically ironic, sucking off each other's gats and pistols." "This dick... is a detachable penis / an extension of my manhood, positioned like a fetus / an intravenous hookup feeds bullets to my magazine / nevermind the bullocks, my pistol is a sex machine!" Other highlights include the best Trustafarian diss I've ever heard ("you're all 'give me ethnicity or give me dreads'") and the best summarization of God in this day and age: "God's not a woman, he's a big White guy in the sky / and the desert are the reflections of his eyes / He doesn't cry for us, but when he does... it's cuz he's drunk... God's not a woman. He's a biiiiiitttch." I smilingly shake my head in admiration.
Many have puzzlingly taken to calling Sage and his contemporaries "emo rap" because of... what? His ingenuity? His capable vocabulary and wit? His knack for using cynicism as a microscope? What, I ask you? Tupac and every other douchebag rapper talk about themselves, so why is it "emo" when an MC does it cerebrally? Here's to hoping these landlords of erroneous pigeonholes are on the receiving end of Sage's deep cuts -- both lyrically and musically (the production fucking FLOORS) -- next time around.