In a world slowly spinning its way to damnation amidst the degradation and decay of expression and individuality, who is left to speak out against the fetid tide of mediocrity washing against our ankles, leaving our cultural socks soggy?
Well Sage Francis for one, although he is more reluctant a saviour than you would expect. As he himself says in Dance Monkey from his album A Healthy Distrust, “when the bomb hits, whose music will you look to for shelter?! Not that mine will help ya.”
Holding a unique status in the world of underground hip hop, having won both the 99 Superbowl Bowl and 2000 Scribble Jam freestyle battles, in the latter beating out Atmosphere and Rhymesayers founder Atmosphere, Sage is an artist who demands respect, but doesn’t give a shit if he gets it or not.
But when it comes to respect, one thing he doesn’t respect is success without merit, especially that which he sees in mainstream hip hop, though he tries not to let it take up too much of his time.
“Mainstream ANYTHING is typically a watered down version of something that used to be potent and powerful. I don’t have much of an opinion on mainstream hip-hop. As far as I can tell it is manufactured for the sake of background noise while ordinary people do uninteresting things. Sometimes interesting stuff slips through the cracks and gives pop culture the kind of flavour it needs to keep seeming cool. I don’t know, I don’t really think about that stuff too much. I’ve never been all that interested in things that are forced on me.”
Speaking of things that were forced on him, ever since he emerged from the underground hip hop scene with his breakthrough album Personal Journals, critics and hip hop fans alike have accused him on “not being hip hop,” labelling his music as everything from Emo to Nerd Rap, but not often dealing with the underpinning ideals and themes inherent in his music.
“Most of those labels have been used as a means to diminish what I do. But every time I’ve been slapped with a term, I accepted it and owned it. It really doesn’t matter to me. It doesn’t affect how I operate or what I create. You could call it chum-spank and I’d say ‘Cool…I am chum-spank. Now watch me chum-spank your ass with this twat stick.’ I just wish people would settle in on one name so I can finally tell my family exactly what it is that I do.”
“With the whole not hip hop spiel it’s easy to say what people like me AREN’T. That’s the easy thing. I’m waiting for someone to peg exactly what it is that we do. It would be nice to be categorized appropriately for once. But at the same time, who cares? It doesn’t change what we do. We, the losers of the hip-hop lie. All I can say to critics who say that I’m not hip-hop is ‘You’re right. But we still hold the torch.”
The torch he’s carrying was lit in 1988 at a Public Enemy show where he first saw the power that hip hop could hold when done right, instead of just being done
“There was organization and purpose. It was something bigger and smarter than anything I had seen in hiphop…and hiphop already had me sold. PE had people on stage in cages with guns. Terminator X in a DJ booth that was hanging high in the air. The S1W’s doing militant step dancing in unison. That all caught my eye.”
With his eye well and truly caught Sage has made himself the man he is today, giving back through his own independent label Strange Famous Records.
“Since I’ve learned almost everything the hard way, I figured that the least I could do is apply this knowledge in a way that benefits artists I enjoy. It also gives me something other than my own career to obsess over.”
“Artists need to do much more than artists of the past were required to do. Same with record companies. It isn’t about artists taking more control or labels taking more control… it’s about both entities doing a lot more while working toward the same goal. It’s just a whole new game. A lot of musicians from the pre-90’s who we now consider legends would probably have failed in this current whirlwind of instant digital gratification.”
As always Sage is taking his own advice, working harder than a whore in The Vatican recording new material as well as working with other artist on their own albums.
“I am recording tons of demos. I have over 20 done at the moment. I will be releasing free music from time to time on www.StrangeFamous.com while I compile the official songs for my next album.”
“As for SFR, we just signed a lot of new artists. Expect a Sleep album called “Hesitation Wounds” soon. Also, B. Dolan is working on an album produced entirely by Alias and it is called “Fallen House, Sunken City.”
“There are a few other albums in the works too so please check out our site for details on that. We have stuff coming from 2Mex soon, a punk band called Prayers For Atheists, and other projects from Buddy Peace, Curtis Plum and Cecil Otter.”
It”s not all give for Sage though, gaining alot from his musical philanthropy in the currency of inspiation. “One of the perks for me, working with all these artists while they develop their albums, is the inspiration I get for my own material. Everything has been very symbiotic in that kind of way.”