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A very flattering article from 8/12/03
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Sage Francis
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Joined: 30 Jun 2002
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A very flattering article from 8/12/03  Reply with quote

Truth is There for the Taking
Few put more heart and soul into their rhymes than this Rhode Island rapper.

by Patrick Sisson

The measure of a storyteller is the mastery of the truth, the amount of personal gut-checking moments he or she expresses to the audience. In that case, rapper Sage Francis, appearing at the Abbey Pub this Sunday night, could just be the poet laureate of the hip-hop nation. No, he doesn’t lay down sonnets or overextend his intellectual muscles. He delivers passion, plain and simple. Makeshift Patriot, his searing commentary about 9/11, was born of his own experiences traveling to Ground Zero. Sage doesn’t just wear his heart on his sleeve; his rhymes are so personal you might think he ripped a hole in his chest just so the audience could get a better look at how it operates. Why else would he wax poetic about his sister’s scars in a genre dominated by wannabe thugs spewing misogynistic lyrics and club politics?

Sage Francis didn’t just spring out of nowhere. Born and raised in Providence, R.I., he was blown away by the likes of Public Enemy, Rakim and the Fat Boys in grade school, and started rhyming at the tender age of eight. On the path that he took afterwards, a set of experiences and self-awareness turned him into an introspective poet and road warrior.

“It is not a hotbed for hip-hop,” Sage says about growing up in a state most people forget about after U.S. History class. “But there was hip-hop. So we had an avenue to travel, but a lack of direction - we had to find our own way.”

Sage and his friends were placed in a prime position for young heads; stuck between Boston and New York, they were never more than a car trip from the big city, yet were far enough away to begin experimenting without others peeping over their shoulders. They eventually formed the group TSS (The Secret Service), and Sage started to hone his skills; when he was twelve he started competing in battles and later won a string of prestigious championships.

Sage’s natural gift for flowing wordplay and quick turns of phrase turned him into a battle-hardened rapper, but another opportunity gave him a new vision of communication. The Providence Spoken Word Team, which he was occasionally a member of, provided a new outlet for his lyrical skills and sharpened his approach.

“Man, spoken word gave me an opportunity to SPEAK,” Sage says with a laugh. “It gave me a venue to stand in front of a mic and talk to people, sway them with words.”

The freedom that form gave him, the ability to shoot thoughts in a thousand tangents like mental shrapnel, honed his ability to tell a story and really forced him to contemplate his ultimate goal when performing in front of a crowd.

“I cherish the freedom and opportunities that spoken word gives me and I try to utilize it to everyone's advantage,” says Sage. “That doesn't always mean I am going out for the big applause. Sometimes I want to perform something that makes the audience question themselves or me for the next couple of days. The performance and the words will just linger in their mind until they can make their final decision on whether they liked it or not.”

Performing without the support of two turntables and contemplating the directions and devices necessary for good storytelling made Sage a more mature rapper. Eventually, the machismo luster of battling wore thin.

“Who am I to still be standing in front of a hungry 17-year-old kid, talking about having sex with his mommy while making him question his sexuality?” Sage says. “Plus, there's only so many times I can be called a faggot before I am forced to agree.”

As Sage grew up, his natural growth as a rapper led to more and more performance opportunities and the inevitable tours. Except for the longing for home that every traveling musician feels – “I want to denounce touring due to the fact that I hate traveling so much and being away from home,” says Sage - there’s nothing typical about his road trips. With a relentless touring schedule, he crisscrossed the continent and beyond in a long string of gigs he booked. From coffee shops to clubs, the allure of his confessional and confrontational wordplay helped create a legion of fans who would pay for a self-made CD at a show and then download more material later. All that mileage has added up; Sage has toured in places as remote as Iceland, and French hip-hop Web sites boast long features about the poignant rapper.

Time on the road also became a serious incubator for ideas. Though most of the writing cobbled from traveling is incomplete and incoherent, he can always make sense of them when he finally returns home. They provide him with real experiences to draw from and react to, not “guessing about people from the closet.”

“Seeing the world and the human condition as it exists in all familiar forms around the globe gives me a greater confidence in what I speak about,” says Sage. “ I saw a man and woman fucking on a staircase in Glasgow. When they were done they had a crowd gathered around them who offered an uncomfortable applause. The woman gave us a defiant middle finger…the whole moment was animalistic, beautiful and childish. Then they BOTH tripped and fell on their faces, making the moment turn from strange to horribly awkward. If I stare at anything long enough, it does that.”

Amazingly, most of this happened before he released his first proper album, Personal Journal, last year. The title doesn’t leave much doubt as to what Sage was trying to accomplish, and the songs’ revealing lyrics could only come from a rapper self-assured enough to tackle serious issues of family, self-identity and love.

“I did my best to touch on some very real subject matter and let everyone know I have experienced some shit,” Sage says. “It was that time of the season. I tackled that subject matter because there weren't many people doing it any justice.”

The album also featured production work from the Anticon crew, a group of West Coast rappers that share Sage’s popularity in the underground. Sage’s production crew made sure to create an organic feel for the album, with some tracks even featuring hand drums.

“I like my music to be played by instruments or sound organic,” Sage says. “Electronic production is becoming all the rage these days and I'm sorry, but that shit just does nothing for me.”

While Personal Journal showcased Sage’s introspective lyrics, this year’s Makeshift Patriot EP proved that he could make a political statement as well. His personal politics, an underlying respect for personal liberty, fueled this energetic release. Attacking the media manipulations and sorting out the difficult feelings that resulted from the tragedy, Sage showed a deep sense of anger at the resulting attempts to restrict freedom in America.

“The workingman is too busy in his hamster wheel to recognize when he is being done wrong sometimes,” says Sage. “Well, guess what...we're all being done wrong. We're all being lied to. Now what?”

As Sage finishes his current summer touring schedule, he’s getting ready for “a couple of months of nothing,” but it’s really a short silence before the storm. He’s in the process of recording and writing his new album for Epitaph records. In October, the Non-Prophets, a branch off from The Secret Service Crew that pairs Sage with rapper Joey Beats, will release their album Hope,/i> on Warp Records’ new hip-hop imprint, Lex. Maybe Sage can finally relax and let the events and experiences of his life sink in. It seems, however, that introspection is merely a surefire catalyst for propelling him around that endless loop of writing, rapping and touring. As long as he keeps going, the truth is there for the taking.

Sage Francis is playing at the Abbey Pub (3420 N. Grace) Sunday, August 10th at 9 p.m. with Brother Ali and Los Nativos.

Copyright © 2003 UR CHICAGO MAGAZINE and First MediaWorks
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Post Fri Aug 15, 2003 8:33 pm
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A tRick with a trick

Joined: 20 Jul 2003
Posts: 152
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You're a Master.
Post Sat Aug 16, 2003 4:48 am
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Joined: 12 Dec 2002
Posts: 11631
Location: MI
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somebody did their homework
Post Sat Aug 16, 2003 2:01 pm
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Joined: 01 Jul 2003
Posts: 45
Location: Barrow-in-Furness, England
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Nice engaging read. Cheers.
Post Sun Aug 17, 2003 6:21 am
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Joined: 05 Sep 2002
Posts: 1040
Location: The Netherlands
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Real nice read but one little flaw: they said joey beats is a rapper.....:(

Everyone knows he killed everybody on anticon-diss-song but I still see him as a producer : )
Post Mon Aug 18, 2003 2:27 am
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Sage Francis
Self Fighteous

Joined: 30 Jun 2002
Posts: 21790
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yeah, I notified the writer of that. Also, he kept calling the album Personal Journal.

the time line got a little funny at one point too.
Post Mon Aug 18, 2003 9:43 am
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