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SAGE FRANCIS: A HEALTHY DISTRUST

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The self-conscious badass has a long history within the rap oeuvre. Eminem, the primary example, became a folk hero for middle school America by masking his insecurities with equal opportunity dissing. Jay-Z, the prototypical wanksta, hides behind book smarts to compensate for his lack of true street cred. Sage Francis, conversely, uses no trick mirrors. His rhymes are painfully personal, nakedly underconfident and oddly compelling, and his topics-which include suicide, social injustice and God's indifference-are decidedly dense. As political as it is personal, A Healthy Distrust is trademark Francis fatalism. Wisely, he balances the heady with the head-boppin'-album opener "The Buzz Kill" is an aggro-electro dirge with its middle finger pointed squarely at the establishment; "Dance Monkey" is agit-funk with a disco-punk core, proof that Francis is right at home as Epitaph's first-ever hip-hop signing. Ultimately, it's the quieter moments on "A Healthy Distrust" that resonate. On "Sea Lion," an acoustic guitar loop underscores a weary vocal cameo from Palace Music's Will Oldham, while the mini-suite "Crumble"/"Ground Control" features the film-noir soundscapes of Sixtoo, a fellow alum of the underground Anticon collective. Drenched in dread, A Healthy Distrust is hard to swallow but nonetheless fulfilling.