Sage Francis

A Healthy Distrust

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Independent rap phenom Sage Francis could have spent his entire career in the underground, winning dozens of poetry slams and collecting battle MC awards at least once per year. But his voice needs to be heard by more hip-hop fans, not simply because he's a gifted rapper but also because he's provocative and intelligent. It's no surprise that the increasingly diversified Epitaph label signed him, but it's also no surprise that Francis hasn't mellowed with his new contract. In fact, since his first solo record for Anticon, he's grown fiercer and gained more ammo (courtesy of the political situation circa 2004-2005). The beats (never a highlight previously) are not only cleaner than his eight-track days, but also bigger and better, contributed by some of the best producers in the sub-underground: Sixtoo, Danger Mouse, Alias, and Reanimator among others. Overall, the Sage may be polemical on a level like few other than Dead Prez, but he also has a metaphysical side matched by few other than Jeru tha Damaja. (Has any other rapper ever imagined a battle DJ match between the Sun and the Moon?) The combination is effective, since commentary often ages better when it's delivered on multiple levels. Unlike political firebrands KRS-One and Rage Against the Machine, Francis speaks in metaphor so much, and indulges in abstract disassociation so frequently, that although listeners won't learn any lessons immediately, they also won't be bludgeoned over the head with his ideas. On "Gunz Yo" he doesn't simply decry gun violence, he investigates the symbolism of weapons, from the gun to the phallus to the tongue. He also finds much compelling material from his social life; "Agony in Her Body" nakedly explores the dichotomy of sex and violence, then the next track, "Crumble," reaches a higher point of romantic catharsis with a bone-rattling breakdown at the end contributed by Sixtoo. Only one thing about A Healthy Distrust is frustrating: Francis is an artist who places every concern under a microscope, and although his perspective is interesting, its power would benefit immensely from a larger frame of reference.

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