When Rhode Island rapper Sage Francis drives home a point, as he does often on his new album A Healthy Distrust, there's a quiver of nervous paranoia in his voice not unlike David Byrne's. Add to it an indie spirit, an element of insecurity and a sonic template invoking late-night despair and you have what could best be described as emo-rap.
After cutting his teeth in Providence/Boston hip-hop circles and later with the Anticon underground collective, A Healthy Distrust finds Francis on the reverent punk label Epitaph, a fitting match for an artist so fueled by his passive-aggression.
Boise Weekly: How's 2005 treating you?
Sage Francis: 2005 is looking to be a year of fruition. Many things that I have spent a bulk of my adult life to achieve are now lying at my feet. It is a beautiful and scary thing to accept. I am looking beyond (the album's release) and wondering about the branches in the road. Lots of options at this point. I want to make the most of my situation, but I do not want to get caught up in all the hoopla that comes along with stuff like this. When someone who has been denied time and time again reaches a certain level of success, they then turn self-destructive because it will bring them back to a place they are more familiar with. I acknowledge that. I am resisting certain impulses.
How did you get hooked up with Epitaph? You're the first hip-hop signing in the label's history.
Epitaph showed a genuine interest in what I talk about and how I do my music, whereas the hip-hop labels poked around to see what kind of molding they could fit me into.
Are you a fan of punk music? What parallels do you find between punk and hip-hop?
I am a fan of many punk groups, and the hardcore scene appealed to me big time in the mid-1990s. Punk rock and hip-hop began in much the same way with the same purpose. Rejection of the mainstream. Making something out of nothing. Revolt. Thangs done changed.
Do you hope to turn punk kids onto hip-hop and vice versa?
I don't care to convert anyone, but I hope I am able to access the kind of folks who respect well-crafted music and words. I accept that there are people who are convinced they could never enjoy a hip-hop aesthetic, but I get a lot of people telling me my music is what opened them up to hip-hop, and that's incredible. As for the hip-hop crowd, if they can't deal with hip-hop that strays from the common styles and subject matter then I have to accept that, too. None of that matters to me in the long run.
How did the collaboration with Will Oldham come about? He's not exactly the go-to guy for hip-hop artists.
I was introduced to his music by Tom at Lex Records while Will and I were in the U.K. at the same time. People got to talking about us doing some music together and then we began talking to each other about it. I had no expectations, but when it was all said and done I was extremely happy that this collaboration took place. He is a favorite singer-songwriter of mine and the song that resulted from our collaboration (Sea Lion) is one of the best songs on my new album.
Are you a fan of mainstream rap/hip-hop? Does it serve the same social purpose it once did?
No, I am not a fan of mainstream hip-hop. As faux pas and/or cliché as it is to say, I detest it. It does nothing for me whatsoever. Music that rides the waves of popularity. It's cheap. It's disposable. It has nothing to do with what Run-D.M.C. did in the 1980s or what Public Enemy did in the 1990s. I don't mind that people want to make dance music, but that's all they want to do and the content of the lyrics is pitiful. The producers are the only ones doing anything of value, but it isn't valuable enough for me to buy into their bullshit. Crumbs.
Where do you imagine America will be at the end of Bush's second term?
At the bottom of a carelessly dug hole. The working class will wonder why the fuck they believed a habitual liar, but they will be too busy trying to stay alive to throw a rock at the people responsible. America has a lot of growing up to do.
Sage Francis plays Thursday, Feb. 24 at JD & Friends, 1519 W. Main St., 8:30 p.m., $15.