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Sage Francis may well be as antisocial and antagonistic as most battle-rhyming indie rappers aiming sites at unspecified MCs want us to think they are. His formal connections within the hip-hop underground seem few, barring a tangential relationship with the Anticon label, which released his solo debut proper in 2001. His rugged individualism (I mean seriously, he’s from Rhode Island) adds a definite sense of realism to his ripping on the culture in which he functions. And his isolation frees him up to do and say lots of stuff—like in “Fresh,” where he makes reference, ironic or not, to being aggressively straight-edge, a potentially asinine move in hip-hop when not backed by righteous religious reasoning. And said freedom allows Sage to vocalize with absolute clarity, sans pretension about anything but his own vision, even as he twists rhymes any way he wants.
All of this is evident on Hope, the first full-length by Non-Prophets, a collabo between Sage and producer Joey Beats. Effort is pretty clearly split down the middle between lyrics and music; even the instrumentals manage a noticeable presence and emotional impact. And Sage keeps up a complex personality to match his personality complex: “I am womanizer, hear me whore,” says Xaul Zan, his misogynist alter ego; while elsewhere Sage continues kicking against predominant hip-hop social currents: “I attend candlelight vigils for Matthew Shepard while you put out another fuck-you-faggot record.”
There’s also plenty of humor and battle. Not to mention some missteps, like, y’know, interpolating a Drowning Pool song on “Damage,” but that just comes with the idiosyncratic territory. Mostly, Francis defies the competition and the status quo at once, with rhymes and techniques fresh, funny, and threatening. Craig Mack never got his meat lumped like this.