US rapper and poet Sage Francis is still throwing verbal bricks after George Bush's second-term election victory, writes Dewi Cooke.
America's community of left-leaning political activists have been doing it tough. After months of haranguing citizens to vote out George Bush last month, they were thanked with high-five slaps of victory from the wrong side. For US rapper, MC and poet Sage Francis, it was a dark time. Having lent his support during the campaign to Democrat candidate John Kerry, Francis says he felt "betrayed" by the outcome.
"I just think it was his duty to fight tooth and nail for every vote and make sure that they were all counted correctly before he conceded, and he certainly didn't - he betrayed the followers who wouldn't normally even be Kerry followers," he says. "He got the support of all different kinds of people of all different kinds of political parties who decided to all come together for the Democrats, and we feel slighted."
Francis is talking from his home in Providence, Rhode Island, just two days after the November result was called. The tiny East Coast state gave Kerry a hearty thumbs-up in the recent election.
Born Paul Francis, the underground hip-hop star occupies a curious niche in mainstream culture. Acclaimed as a performer after wins in numerous poetry slam contests, Francis went on to win the world-renowned Cincinnati Scribble Jam title - an open-microphone MC, beatboxing and breakdancing competition - in 2000. He then teamed up with San Franciscan hip-hop collective Anticon and released his debut album, Personal Journals, in 2001.
The album was a passionate deluge of thoughts and emotions, and nothing, not even Bill Murray movies, was considered sacred. It's unusual to come across artists who wear their hearts so openly on their sleeve, but for Francis there's no other way.
"I have no ambition to present myself as anything greater than I am. I mean, I show people my flaws, I let 'em know how I f---ed up in life, and the people that I've f---ed over, the people who've f---ed me over ... It's the common human story, so why not share it and let it come out of me in the way that it feels most natural? I have nobody to impress, really. For that album in particular I was just trying to make my imprint in music," he says.
A loyal fan base has developed as a result, and his freeform rhymes and poetry have struck a chord with groups as disparate as
b-boys and soldiers. His music isn't always an easy listen, but his inspired lyrics and sense of humour are what sets him, and other rappers of his ilk, apart from the gangsters and bling so often associated with hip-hop. Subsequent releases on Lex Records and as half of MC-production unit Non-Prophets has given him an even wider outlet for expression.
But while fans of Francis' work might be loyal, his enemies are likely to be growing, thanks mainly to this year's F--- Clear Channel tour.
Taking in 40 cities around the US, Francis launched the tour in retaliation to the dominance of Clear Channel, the media and entertainment conglomerate that owns more than 1200 radio stations across the United States. A sort of benign power, it became a household name earlier this year after it dropped famed shock-jock Howard Stern from its syndicated show list for, reportedly, his anti-Bush administration remarks. Clear Channel's response was to say Stern's show was "vulgar, offensive and insulting". As an independent performer who's done the struggling artist bit, Sage Francis hit the pavement running.
"I was just telling people to know who it is you're supporting with your money - that's almost as important than voting. Or I could go out on a limb and say it's more important than voting - your money, where you spend it, who you support. That's why it's so important to get rid of monopolies. You need the choice, you need the decision to choose one company over another because of how they affect your community," he says.
The clean-living vegetarian, who's recently signed to US punk-rock label Epitaph, hopes he and his community of anti-establishment activists can effect some change. Talking like a modern-day Jello Biafra, Francis still has hope for America's political future.
"I am the backlash, you know? There are people like me who pick up megaphones and yell at the masses and hopefully get them inspired to pick up a brick and throw it at the giant. You know, hit 'em right between the eyes and knock 'em the f--- out. We're just little people, you know, but when we work together as a unit we're a big person."