Sage Francis: Non-Profit Prophet

In the words of Sage Francis himself, “A lot of s**t has happened since A Healthy Distrust.” The poetic, lyricist, battle MC, political dissident and one-time ice cream server has amassed a collection of thought-provoking songs and molded them into his latest album, Human the Death Dance, out this month on Epitaph Records. With a […]

In the words of Sage Francis himself, “A lot of s**t has happened since A Healthy Distrust.

The poetic, lyricist, battle MC, political dissident and one-time ice

cream server has amassed a collection of thought-provoking songs and

molded them into his latest album, Human the Death Dance, out this month on Epitaph Records.

With a collection of compilation albums, the Sick of Waiting series, and two releases under his belt, 2002’s Personal Journals and 2004’s A Healthy Distrust, Sage has been steadily building his rhyme repertoire. Whereas A Healthy Distrust was more aggressive and provocative, focusing more outwardly toward society, 2007’s Human the Death Dance is a reflective album for Sage Francis, and a chance for listeners to discover their own personal freedom.

Sage Francis spoke for the first time in his career to

discuss the upcoming release, what listeners can expect to find on the

album and the underpinnings of the songs for Human the Death Dance. What’s the meaning behind the title of your new album, Human the Death Dance?

Sage Francis: There are a few elements working. It started as a poem by

Buddy Wakefield called “Human the Death Dance.” But it wasn’t a poem

he’d written yet. I basically stole it from him. And I put it on my

album. The image it provokes works for what I wanted to get across in

the album; the human death dance of life. There is a saying that when

you’re taken away by death, you’re supposed to do a dance that

represents your life. And also getting to have Buddy Wakefield on the

album was a motive to represent that idea. How would you say Human the Death Dance differs from your last album, A Healthy Distrust?

Sage Francis: A Healthy Distrust sonically was more abrasive. I was more aggressive with that album. With Human the Death Dance,

I was more laid back and I tried to pull more stories. There are a few

breakup songs on the album about relationships, as opposed to A Healthy Distrust, which was more political. Since A Healthy Distrust, a lot of stupid stuff has happened and it came out in my music. What do you mean?

Sage Francis: Just I wanted to move on. I wanted to get some things out

of my system. I addressed failed relationships and I tried to explain

that sometimes it is a good thing to end relationships; not just with

the girlfriend, but with people in your life, and to really explore

your freedom. A lot of the songs might seem depressing, but I think in

a way it’s the scary celebration of freedom. You don’t know where

you’re going, but you’re just moving along; Every now and then you’re

going to have to hop some trains. You make a number of commentaries of Hip-Hop, society,

politics, sex and suicide, to name a few themes on the album. Do you

feel like you’re preaching at times or are there any specific things

you do when you’re writing to prevent yourself from sounding like

you’re preaching?

Sage Francis: I’m kind of confused when people say I preach. My earlier

music, stuff not available anymore, had a level of preaching to it that

turned me off. And that’s something that bothers me when people preach

in their music. I think I very clearly express what’s in my life, the

things that are bothering me. I try to raise a lot of questions and

offer alternative thoughts. I don’t think I tell people what to do. You switch a number of times in the album from looking

inward at yourself to outward at others. How do you balance the two?

Sage Francis: I did some switching between introspection and

extrospection. A lot of life is lived in your head. There are only a

couple of tracks on the album that I address things that aren’t

personal to me. “Hoofprints in the Sand” is clearly an attack on the

current government. I didn’t want to do too much of that on this album.

I did it so much on A Healthy Distrust

that I didn’t want to do it on this album. I have a problem with

balance. I should just make an album with one tone. At least you could

hear the one song and say, “I like it.” Listening to one song could

misrepresent the whole album. If you take the album in as a whole, it

ties together. People now seem to hear one song but not the whole

album. A full album is supposed to be rewarding, like a movie. If you

watch one scene from a movie, you can’t grasp the entire idea. In the song “High Step” you start out replaying your

history in football. Were you a football player growing up, or is speak

to something higher in athletics?

Sage Francis: The story is true. It’s all literal. There is a higher

metaphor working there. I played football from seventh grade all the

way to college. But I was into all different sports. I was really

athletic. Once I got to college I decided to put sports on the side and

focus on academics. But I ended up spending time on music and poetry.

It’s been a long time since I focused on sports and that really felt

good to me. This song is kind of like showing that I hold stuff in me a

long time and wait to let it out. This album is about reflection and

learning from those experiences. Everyone is led to believe there is a

higher power working over them; God this, God that. You submit to

higher powers and you submit to the machine. That’s how the government

and the military work. It’s a huge microcosm. That’s what I

experienced. At one point I was doing martial arts, which I did from

fourth grade to college. At the time, that’s where my spirituality came

from. Only when I broke away did a lot of falsities that I bought into

faded away. And that’s something I was trying to get across. You talk about government conspiracy, demographic

breakdowns and death on the song “Hoofprints in the Sand.” How did the

all of the concepts for that song come together into one, cohesive

train of thought?

Sage Francis: Again, I didn’t want to have too much political

commentary on this album. This was the last song I decided to put on

the album. I had all those lyrics hanging around. And though I pulled

the lyrics from different points, I didn’t want all those lyrics to

become different songs. A designer for Strange Famous Records had

actually come up with the music video for the music, which was produced

by Reanimator. And it was a bunch of words that dealt with social

problems. I was watching it and thought, “This music fits with the

words I have.” And I showed it to her and asked to apply the lyrics to

the song. I really wanted to do something with Reanimator on the album.

In the song, I talk about medical experiments and population control.

But I wouldn’t say there is one once of preaching. I throw out

concepts. I look at things a lot of people might not pick up on. And I

think it’s good to spark discussion. That’s what Public Enemy did for

me; N.W.A., Too $hort, KRS-One. All these people were throwing out

ideas too. Who did the production on the album and how did you decide what kind of music you wanted?

Sage Francis: There are various producers on the album. Alias did three

of the beats. Migration did a couple of tracks – he’s mainly a movie

producer [see Crash and Million Dollar Baby]. Migration and I are actually working on an upcoming movie together, Pride and Glory,

where I do the vocals and he does the production score. It’s been two

years in the making, but I guess that’s how Hollywood works.

In terms of selecting the music for the album, I have a large catalog

of beats. Various producers send me music. And if I like it, I keep it

on file. When I’m writing lyrics I look into the music I have and the

sounds that capture the mood I’m trying to get at in my lyrics. A lot

of the time, I sit on the beats I get and wait for lyrics to come out.

Some of the music is five years old. I’m kind of a pack rat with lyrics

and music. I had lyrics from A Healthy Distrust that found a home on this record. One song in particular, “Keep Moving,” was originally made for the Personal Journals album and I never got a chance to use it until now. I just had Alias rework the beat and now it sounds completely different. How did you decide to title your songs and what do the names mean?

Sage Francis: Some of the titles are literal. “Keep Moving” was the

least innovative song title. “Underground for Dummies” was a concept

I’ve held for awhile. I wanted to break down my rise in the Hip-Hop

world point by point. It’s like a play of those “books for dummies.”

Though, a publication recently misprinted the song title and it read

“Underground is for Dummies,” which completely changes the meaning. I

don’t think underground is for dummies. If there is one thing you want listeners to take away from your album, what would that be?

Sage Francis: I want people to really look at personal freedom and the

value in personal freedom; having no anchors. The song “Call Me

Francois” really touches on that idea. I want people to get away from

their commitments to everyone. Or don’t. Get married, have kids, join

the war.