Beneath Sage Francis' brand of smart hip-hop is a comedian's timing and cultural literacy; but it's his penchant for introspection that makes his raps sincere.
Francis is a mix master who sets tracks to a studied variety of samples, from live jazz riffs to television shows to the sounds of industry. He opens songs with clips from pop culture rather than dropped beats. In the world of Sage Francis, he who makes the most references wins.
The breadth of Francis' engagement with music, film and literature is matched by the music's vulnerability. Pleas for social justice, anxiety about 9/11 and satire about women's status all appear next to examinations of infidelity, machismo and boredom.
Francis is at his best when he's being philosophical. Tracks like "Polterzeitgeist" and "Little Houdini" combine his abilities as a mixer and his natural wit.
Francis' latest album, Life (2012), is packed with sagacity, passion and a more polished tone than previous entries, while also expanding into new musical territory. Songs are recorded atop jazz, ambient noise and looped psychedelic sounds.