It's unfortunate that the hype machine behind Sage Francis' second effort for the Epitaph label totally missed the breakthrough factor and decided to sell it as "his most personal record to date." Pound for pound, Human the Death Dance may be his most personal effort, but it's also an incredibly well-built full-length -- even when it borrows from a handful of genres -- and it's arguably his best lyrical effort, undoubtedly his best production-wise. While it's good news that the Sage Francis faithful are getting to peer into the man's head with this "personal" effort, Death Dance begins with a helpful crib sheet ("Underground for Dummies") that suggests newcomers are welcome here, too, and maybe even desired. When he delivers "You wanna promo copy buddy/You can download the tracks," it's not entirely clear whether he would have designed the world this way. He's cool with it, though, and declares "This is hip-hop for the people/Stop calling it emo," as if he's done with being pigeonholed, sick of being sold only to those "in the know." And really, why shouldn't he be? Any audience can appreciate the greatness of the organic blues beat producer Buck 65 lays on "Got Up This Morning." Sage's lyrics on the cut are equally smart and creative, with literary references thrown about in a flirty conversation between the protagonist and a sultry siren who just might be the Devil ("She asked 'What would Bukowski do?'/Don't go there!/He would make you his Mom"). Brilliant underground hip-hop producers Odd Nosdam ("Underground for Dummies") and Alias ("Keep Moving") both turn in great constructions, and composer/trumpeter/odd choice Mark Isham offers two elegant and sinister tracks ("Good Fashion" and "Waterline") that prove why he's the one who the film industry calls when they want slick 21st century noir. The truly personal numbers that close the album come after earning the listener's trust and patience, and the Isham/Francis connection comes from work for Hollywood, more signs that the man is ready to connect. In the end, the claim "his most personal record to date" becomes as important as "the one with the most black on the cover" or "the one with the most producers." What matters is that Death Dance works hard to immerse any listener in another world where angst, darkness, dark humor, ambition, the itch to create, and the hunger for all things creative demand attention. That this is the world in Sage's head is secondary.
AllMusic Review by David Jeffries