The enigmatic Sage Francis returns, following his critically acclaimed solo debut album, Personal Journals, and its unofficial sequel that came in the form of Non-Prophets’ Hope, along with Joe Beats and DJ Mek. Now on punk label, Epitaph, Sage brings A Healthy Distrust, his official sophomore solo album. But which version of Sage do we get this time? While Personal Journals documented the life and times of S.Francis, and Hope payed tribute to the classic hip-hop music that shaped him, A Healthy Distrust carries a unified theme of questioning authority (from politicians to God), keeping girlfriends at arms length, and singling out the idiots, as it’s title suggests.
Like many misunderstood geniuses of the past, Sage could be described as hip-hop’s quintessential introvert. He seemingly keeps all things that frustrate him bottled up inside, only to be released in a complex poetic climax, over varied production that ranges from aggro-to-somber, but never lacking edge. The current political climate definitely helps shape tracks like the opener, “The Buzz Kill”, a wonderfully executed Reanimator produced assault where Sage acts as a weapon of mass destruction, aimed at corporations and the government. Again on “Slow Down Ghandi”, Sage touches on the war in Iraq with poignant lines like “You support the troops by wearing yellow ribbons? / Just bring home our motherfuckin’ brothers and sisters”. Meanwhile, his frustration with bad religion rears it’s head on “Sun Vs. Moon”, a priceless DJ battle between God and the Devil, and again on the closer “Jah Didn’t Kill Johnny”, a tribute to the late Mr. Cash.
But Sage’s rants aren’t all politically-motivated or anti-religious, as some of his more comically entertaining moments poke fun at hip-hop’s invasion of pop-culture, and the effects its had on society. “Gunz Yo” is an unforgiving essay behind a Danger Mouse beat, which very sarcastically questions the reasons why Americans are obsessed with firearms, with lines like “Straight to the grill, like a homophobic rapper / unaware of the graphic nature of phallic symbols”. “Dance Monkey” is another pulls-no-punches parody, as Sage & producer Daddy Kev craft an ironically energetic, anti-club song, with amazing Bomb Squad -esque layers of samples and change-ups. Meanwhile, on “Escape Artist”, Sage metaphorically examines his contributions to hip-hop, questioning his relevance in today’s age of disposable arts.
But while much of A Healthy Distrust is a critical view of the world outside of him, he does delve inside himself as well. In some of the best poems penned on the record, Sage mends a broken heart and questions his worth in relationships. On “Crumble”, a frustrated Sage laments to his ex-lover, “Slave labor, you made me work for what I couldn’t have”, while getting more cryptic about his relationship woes on “Bridle” and “Agony In Her Body”.
All in all, Sage can be described as a beat poet educated in hip-hop, as his rhymes are rich with double entendres, unique word association, all sprinkled together with classic references to Public Enemy and Eric B. Rakim (among others). Top notch production, strong concepts, and smart lyrical content make “A Healthy Distrust” another solid end-to-end banger from Mr. Francis.
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