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There are a lot of people trying to do what Sage Francis does really well. One of the fundamental problems with the indie hip-hop movement was that it allowed anyone with a computer to attempt to make a name for themselves. Granted, this problem runs rampant in commercial hip-hop as well, but the underground was supposed to be a safe haven for fans who were sick of poor quality music being marketed as hip-hop. Where the problem lied, is that so many internet wierdoes came crawling out of the woodworks, that artists like Sage got negatively lumped in with the rest of them. The uninformed, untrained ear could not differentiate between an artist like Sage – who has a wealth of talent – and fifty other “artists” trying to be like him. This had a negative effect on the whole scene, killing it in the process. Suddenly, the term “backpacker” was looked at as a scarlet letter, not the legacy of Buckshot Shorty. That being said, Sage’s new LP Li(f)e is so against the grain of traditional hip-hop, yet still blindingly brilliant, that it’s going to make a whole bunch of people afraid to like it. We’re here to tell you that it’s okay.

The title of Sage’s fourth LP suggests his entire life has been a lie, and he seems to apply much of the reasoning due to organized religion. The Shepard Fairey commissioned album cover shows Sage illuminated in a golden light, from distance appearing as the visage of Christ himself; but a closer look finds Sage in the crosshairs, burning alive. The album starts with “Little Houdini”, but kicks into high gear on “Three Sheets To The Wind”, an uptempo, indie rock firestarter that finds Sage teaming with Death Cab guitarist Christopher Walla, trading rhymes and sung vocals in perhaps his best adaptation to the genre yet. “I Was Zero” is a little more closer to his older style, as he demonstrates incredible wordplay with clever double entrendres, while lambasting his apparent religious upbringing. This sentiment continues throughout much of the record, with words that many would cry as sacrilege, but Sage is indifferent as he speaks to an entity he believes isn’t there. “Diamonds and Pearls” is the most venomous track, as he feels decieved, but suggests “I ain’t mad at you / that’s the only miracle here.” Again on “Polterzeitgiest”, he weaves some of the album’s most poetical greatness, as he comes to terms with leaving his old system of beliefs behind.

Sage does venture outside the topic of religion from time to time, but still remains within the realm of his own life and times. “The Baby Stays” is a well written look at birth, where he directs an incredibly vivid short film on the topic, perhaps questioning his own existence in the process. This leads directly into “16 Years”, a gloomy, hypnotic track that finds him visiting some of these same themes, years later. But the album’s crown jewel, and perhaps the greatest accomplishment of his career thus far, as “The Best Of Times”. Here, Sage pens perhaps his most personal journal entry yet, over awe-inspiring production from French composer Yann Tierson, using his knack for intricate wordplay and animated visuals to keep the listener hanging off his every word. You’ll quickly forget that this song has no “boom-bap” by the end of it.

Interestingly, he does not delve too deeply into the political landscape this time around. However it’s pretty obvious where he stands, as many of these themes are juxtaposed within his overview of religion, making it unnecessary. Yet with today’s hot political climate, there are so many easy targets to fire at, we can only assume his uzi weighs a ton. Next album, maybe?

All in all, this may very well be the best LP of Sage’s career. He’s pulled back a bit from the over-experimental, making it easier to grasp exactly what he’s talking about. He’s shown us yet another side to his music, without sacrificing it’s integrity in any fashion. He’s learned to flawlessly combine the classic poetics of hip-hop with the fuller production of indie rock, never once does it sound forced. However listeners must be open to both genres before attempting to undertake Sage’s Li(f)e. That being said, if you can’t get down with the sounds of indie rock, this one will fly right over your head. Everyone else, all aboard.

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0 Responses to "Sage Francis – "Li(f)e" – @@@@ (Review) (*sticky*)"
  • The CritIQ says:

    That’s a terrible Li(f)e review. It’s a long-winded account of what Sage says when it should be a more concise explication of how he says it. Most of the review is squandered on some rambling prologue about internet rap and backpackers – is it 2001? At least try to address the defining characteristics of this album: 1) it’s a collabo between Sage (on the words) and various “proper” musicians on the music 2) most tracks shun the boombap/kick-snare cookie-cutter 3) a big part of Sage’s style is to canniblise and otherwise play with cliches and proverbs 4) Li(f)e begs comparison with Buck 65′s “Secret house against the world” which was Buck’s stab at proper music.

  • That Guy says:

    Don’t be a douche, CritIQ.

    I thought this was a really good review that placed Sage Francis in the context of contemporary hip-hop while covering both the what and the how. Clearly, you are familiar with him, but let’s be serious, Sage isn’t exactly a figurehead of the genre. I’d imagine his base is mainly nerdy, white, male, politically conscious, suburban, hip-hop obsessives — not exactly the demo most rappers reach out to. My point is that his relative obscurity makes it necessary to differentiate him from the true “internet weirdos.”

    (Personally, I was a big fan of Sage almost a decade ago. Then I saw him in concert (in 03 or 04) and completely lost respect for him. He was incredibly jaded. He kept complaining about “the music establishment”; you know, the banal argument about how anyone on a major label is automatically crap (real enlightened, Sage). He went on political rants which consisted of a lot of whining – granted this was during the heart of the Bush years – and very little pragmatism. If felt more like an anarchist rally than a concert. The audience wasn’t really having it which made him turn on us and become even more insolent. It was awful. We paid to let Sage Francis bitch at us.)

    Sage is certainly an uncompromising artist. I have to respect his passion and perseverance. Still, I also have to question his motives (get it?): If you’re a self-made pariah, you have no one to blame except for yourself when people don’t respond to you, you messages, and your music.

  • The CritIQ says:

    Not being “a douch.” It’s a poor review (I agree with the @ rating but the review largely fails to describe the project and then neglects to explain why it only receives @@@). The bulk of this review is eaten up by needless circumlocution which could be summed up by saying “he’s not everybody’s cup o’ tea….a lot of people bit him and a lot of people ‘hate’ on him.” (i.e. glib statements which you could cut’n'paste to a review of pretty much any famous rapper). You yourself tried to defend the rreview by psychoanalysing me/my perspective/my demographic rather than addressing the subject at hand. Like I said, this review fixates on Sage’s profile/reputation and little about the album itself. The review deals exclusively with the “What” rather than the “how/why.” Reading that review gives the impression that li(f)e is one long atheist essay set to music when it’s far more subtle, crafted and interesting than that. All I ask is that a review should criticise that specific work of art and not simply weigh its merits according to its perceived audience. Peace. p.s: Most rap is targetted at middleclass White America (from 50 Cent through to Paul Barman and all stops inbetween) so that’s a null point.

  • khordkutta says:

    “Most rap is targetted at middleclass White America (from 50 Cent through to Paul Barman and all stops inbetween)”, Says You, but I believe you proved you douchedom with that comment

  • dj_osiris says:

    What are we doing reviewing the reviewer now?

    Good album, 3.5 stars for me. Polterzeitgeist and Best of times are my favs.

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