Sage Francis Human The Death Dance

[Epitaph; 2007]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: underground rap, hip-hop, trip-hop
Others: Buck 65, Alias, Odd Nosdam, Count Bass D, Reanimator

Sage Francis has always been a polarizing force in the underground hip-hop community, and that doesn’t change with his latest album. His fiercely political, bluntly personal rhymes still consistently toe the line between old-school hip-hop, nerdcore, and modern gangsta rap, leaving no cuddly middle ground to speak of. You either love him to death or want to choke the pretension right out of his thick, white neck, and Human The Death Dance – what is accurately being hailed as his most deeply introspective record yet – doesn’t do anything to alter that trait.

Where Hope, recorded with Joe Beats as Non-Prophets, was his ode to old school, and 2005’s A Healthy Distrust exorcized the many pitchfork-wielding demons of King Bush’s America, Human The Death Dance swings the karma wheel back to the kind of personal exposition first explored in his descriptively titled 2002 debut, Personal Journals. Smothering the album in lo-fi recordings of Sage working out his style as a teenager (possibly even younger) sure adds an undeniable candour to the whole thing. Sage says, “I have no interest in being cool. All I want is to be honest.” And that’s exactly why his audience is so polar. For example, “Midgets & Grails” is a thorough trashing of half-assed MCs, rave culture, and the pop/hip-pop scene, while preaching Sage to be the last bastion of true freshness. Egomaniacal honesty is inarguably front and centre, but being right falls to the listener’s discretion, whatever side of the line Call Him Francois puts you on. I, for one, love the man, but few people on the planet cheer for the prick over the good guy. Nevertheless, the glitchy, hard-charging beats provided by the likes of Reanimator, Odd Nosdam, Buck 65, and Alias are about the sweetest sugar you could ever cover that pill with. While it’s easy to see why some people hate the Known Unsoldier on a personal level, anyone with a small taste for underground hip-hop has to respect the beats and Sage’s flawless execution. Loathed or loved, he is the greatest white emcee of all time.

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