I’m not going to sit here and pretend I’ve been following Sage Francis’ career since the “Homegrown Demo” or “AOI” days. In fact, I got put onto Sage through some of the Non-Prophets stuff when it hit the 12-inch scene, and I dabbled in a few of the Sick Of… discs. But what really put me on to Sage Francis was the “Makeshift Patriot” single – perhaps the first and best song about September 11th, 2001 – one that hit incredibly close to home, because it was something we could all relate to. So stripping myself of any pretentious writer badge, in respect to Sage Francis, I think I represent the average underground hip-hop listener. With that said, I present to you:
The average underground Hip-Hop listener’s perspective of Sage Francis’s “Personal Journals”. (Now available on Anticon CD’s and Tapes).
As the album’s title suggests, Personal Journals, is, in a nutshell, the diary of Sage Francis. The cover couldn’t be more apt, as it depicts the dead-faced Sage standing in front of a locked closet, with the skeleton key hanging from his mouth. I admit, after “Makeshift Patriot”, a song that made such poignant social commentary, I was looking for Sage to deconstruct the world outside, but this album instead takes place inside a world he created.
With all due respect, while I didn’t get what I was looking for, this certainly is his album, more so the child of an artist that most hip-hop music out there today. It defines him and invites the listener into the split-personas of Sage Francis – devoted son, father to none – best summed up heavily on tracks like “Different” and “Personal Journalist”. A great deal of the album is spent dissecting his relationships with the people in his life, with the most insightful and emotional being “Crack Pipes”, which is a beautifully penned dedication to a deceased relative (it’s not clear which one), as well as the incredible “Inherited Scars”, where Sage reflects on whether or not he was an effective enough “big brother doing father figure eights”.
Meanwhile, Sage uses a good percentage of the album to touch upon the women in his life, whether it’s the praise of “Broken Wings”, the indirect hate of “Smoke and Mirrors”, the emotional toying of “Eviction Notice”, or rather directing his love to a lost link to his childhood, “Black Sweatshirt”. Among these tracks, despite Sage’s forever clever word-play, they didn’t pack quite the emotional punch as the others - but perhaps only to the faces of those they were aimed at (like I said, this is his album.)
In between there are the tracks for the “art-fags” (as he calls them), such as “Cup Of Tea”, presenting Sage’s nightly meeting with his ghosts, and “Climb Trees”, a devilish rant asking the listener to forget about hymns and Him. Not to mention, we also get a taste of Sage’s offshoot projects, with the bluesy “My Name Is Strange” (live with AOI), or the hometown dedication outro, “Runaways”, showing off the great fusion between him and Joseph Beats (together known as Non-Prophets, for the knownots).
But because of this, while Sage’s Personal Journals is required listening, in my opinion, it seems to come off somewhat unevenly, in the fact that it is a work of many different sounds and producers, as this seems like the type of album that would have been executed better if it was produced by one person (i.e. Aceyalone’s Book Of Human Language). Not to mention, while Sage’s foundation is hip-hop, (check the priceless interludes), he’s a spoken-word poet at heart, and it’s not always easy digesting a plate of Strange Famous Salad in one bite. It’s an acquired taste, and those with the time to write college theses on each song will have fun picking it apart, but those of us looking for a more unified sound and/or straightforward approach of tracks like “Bounce” or “Makeshift Patriot”, may instead have their mouths watering for the Non-Prophets album. Nevertheless, as one of the deepest looks inside a hip-hop artist’s soul yet, it definitely demands respect.
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