1. The Non-Profits album is being described by media and fans as a bit more of a "standard" or "straight-forward" hip-hop album than some of your previous releases. What do you think that means, and do you see the Non-Prophets album as a departure from your solo work?
Sage: It is a departure from the style of my solo work. I could not have created HOPE on my own, because it was a joint effort between Joe Beats and myself. We both compromised and came up with the style that we record under. But its been like that since 1998/1999 so I wouldn't say that this album is a departure from what I have been doing. It's not like I have gone in a whole new direction. My solo album, Personal Journals, was a departure from the Non-Prophets. And now I have brought it back to the project that existed even before my solo career. And that's how I wanted it to be. I don't like releasing music in a linear manner.
2. People have referred to your music --- perhaps just as a means of easily qualifying it for their own comfort --- as "backpacker" or "nerd" rap and lumped you in with artists like the Slug, Aesop Rock and those Anticon guys, despite the fact that y'all don't really sound alike. Is there something to those comparisons?
Sage: I haven't met a single GOOD rapper, musician or craftsman of any sort who doesn't qualify as a nerd. We are passionate people. We are thinkers. We are obsessive compulsive. But as I said in a previous interview, I am somone who will punch your face if you challenge me on any physical level so people might have to update their idea of what a nerd is. You can't chop wood with an axe made of words.
3. Is there something to the whole "nerd" rap label? Or does that just mean anything that doesn't bling, bang or ball on MTV?
Sage: Perhaps. Some people can't give respect to an artist who doesn't get airplay on mainstream media outlets. It means they are not successful. My grandmother asked me if I was looking for a real job the other day. I'm like, "Ummm...well...I have a self-run business that has helped me pay off all my student loans, car payments and mortgage. Should I go back to Ben and Jerry's now before the well runs dry?"
4. You've never really seemed to subscribe to a specific clique or scene---aside from the aforementioned lumping done by the press and fans. Is there something greater, like a crew, a movement (and not simply "the human race") that you consider yourself, as an artist, a part of?
Sage: Not at all. I have no crew affiliations and I have no abition to be part of something that is bigger than myself. The only thing that comes close is the Non-Prophets, which initially was supposed to be a big crew. Turns out its just me and Joe Beats.
5. Please explain why it was cool to have Joe Beats on the boards for the Non-Prophets project.
Sage: He wasn't on the boards per se. Chris Warren was on the boards. Joe Beats arranged the music and that IS important because he's the guy who offers the perfect backdrop for what it is I need to do lyrically. He offers the right feel, the proper movement and he does it consistently. It is a signature sound of his that I have grown accustomed to.
6. I know you and Joe are not strangers, but did working with Joe for this entire album make you change your approach to the mic? If so, how?
Sage: Hmmm. Yes, it did. Because I had to switch gears. My more introspective and dark nature had to take a back seat and let the others come out and play. I couldn't go soft on hard beats. I couldn't get too out of hand with my song structure when I am presented with 16 bar verses, 8 bar choruses. So I had to ponder the field I was playing in and do my best to freak it properly. That's how I like to do things. That's when the CHALLENGE pushes artists to do more than they normally would, because they are operating outside of what is most comfortable to them. When people get too comfortable they turn lazy. It's ironic that we had to go back to a more traditional sound in order to do something different.
7. Did you try to come to this project with a different lyrical approach than on previous solo albums? If so, is there a general theme that covers the lyrical content on Hope?
Sage: I had to walk the line of humorous and poignant, without adhering to shock value lyrics (save for the Xaul Zan song which will not be discussed.) I wanted no sign of pretention. Most of all, I had to rap the best way I know how, and that had me referring back to the hiphop of my childhood and teenage years. It is very easy for me to rap like that, but the challenge was to tie in as many things as possible while sticking to an interesting flow and multi-syllabic rhyme scheme. A LOT of people try to do it...almost all of them suck at it. And their content leaves a lot to be desired. Being that Joe and I created a feel that is supposed to take the listeners back a decade or so, I also wanted to use that conventional sound as a vehicle to challenge conventional ideas.
8. Why "Hope" for the album title? I've never thought of you necessarily as a gloom-and-doom MC, but Hope isn't a word I would use in describing you music.
Sage: Ha. Hope is all the fuck I have. The word "HOPE" works as an album title of this project for multiple reasons. But the illest shit for ME is to incorporate religious imagery with the Rhode Island logo and to have it make more sense than I can explain. I look at it and think many things at once. Jesus Christ on an anchor...ontop of him says "INRI"...below him says "HOPE." Gotta love it. My past high fives my future.
9. The song "Makeshift Patriot" is on Epitaph Records' Punk-O-Rama 8 compilation. Are you cultivating a relationship with that label? Got something coming out through them? If so, what about that label first intrigued you?
Sage: I was the first hiphop artist to sign with Epitaph. I signed a 3 album deal with them. The first Sage Francis album on Epitaph should be out by late spring. Hopefully. That label intrigued me for a number of reasons. One, Bad Religion. Two, they treat their artists very well. Three, they approached me in a very respectful way and continue to be overly-supportive of everything I do. Four, I liked the idea of being the only rapper on a punk label (which wouldn't last too long.)
10. An ultimately unavoidable aspect of being a musician or MC who earns a living from their work is being able to balance art and business. Is something you've faced or are currently facing? Your thoughts on that dichotomy?
Sage: One balances out the other. I was thinking about this while loading my car up with heavy boxes full of product yesterday. My back hurts today and it is a good pain that I feel. The manual labor of my business balances out all the emotional draining that goes on in the other realms of my life. I like getting my hands dirty. It is remedial and healthy. It reminds me of how it all started and all the shit I had to go through in order to get what I have. I run my business. I run my own label. I handle all facets of my own music and I manage my own career. I can't do all of these things forever, but while I want to do it as long as I can. Artists are forever whining about how someone fucked up their career or ruined an opportunity. No, buddy...you are a lazy piece of shit who knows how to rap but has no discipline or initiative. I worked my own merch table while you sat back stage drinking beer. I drove my ass to the radio station every week while you bitched about not getting a shout out on the air. I mailed out thousands of tapes and CDs while you complained about your wack distribution. You will fade into obscurity with the rest of the "greatest emcees of all time."
by Max Sidman