By Vish KhannaRhode Island’s Sage Francis has written his masterwork with Human the Death Dance, a moody, encapsulating record. The first hip-hop artist on Epitaph, Francis’s debut for the label, 2005’s A Healthy Distrust, was a politically charged assault that positioned him as a one-man Public Enemy. It was a departure for the MC, best known for his vulnerable, self-aware lyrics that combined humour, rage and sadness before launching from Francis’s battle rhyme-winning tongue. The autobiographical style is back and Francis’s penchant for welcoming many collaborators has yielded a sonically diverse record. Snippets of abstract conversation pepper the album cinematically and "Growing Pains” features recordings of Francis rapping throughout his childhood. This leads into self-help memoir "Underground for Dummies,” which finds Francis delving into his travails as a struggling, white hip-hop artist, a topic he generally avoids. Mr. Cooper lends a hot beat to get Francis racing on "Civil Disobedience” and Buck 65 drops a blues-y roots vibe, as Jolie Holland and Francis mingle on "Got Up This Morning.” Captivatingly dark and sharply funny, Francis is raw and open on the ingenious Human the Death Dance.
Is this record intentionally less political than the last? A Healthy Distrust wasn’t only post-9/11, it was post-election with a lot of social commentary trying to make sense of everything. It was aggressive and, with this one, I wanted to be more introspective and go back to a style I’m best known for: just me delving into personal issues and making sense of that.
You rarely rap about being white. Why? It’s too easy; it’s not supposed to be a "white rapper” thing. I’ve kept my picture off my product, as other [white] rappers did in the underground, where you assumed they were black. It’s scary; you don’t want people to like or not like you because you’re white. I didn’t want that to define me, or my art.
Your records are crazy eclectic… I think sometimes I tend to overdo it; I should probably just chill and not try to overload it with every side of my personality. I like these albums to be photo albums of me that show all the things I think under different moods. I think this is the last time I do this mix-tape-style of album; I want this to be closure on the styles I’ve presented and go off in a totally new way. (Epitaph)