Paul 'Sage' Francis is a hip-hop artist from Providence, Rhode Island. He is white. This last fact shouldn't alter your perceptions of him in any way (nor should it if he were black); but in a genre commercially dominated by the likes of Kanye West and Jay-Z, accomplished white rappers are almost something of a novelty. Even more of a 'novelty' for the hip-hop genre is the fact that he is a vegetarian who doesn't drink, doesn't do drugs and doesn't
think of himself as "straight-edge". This is not because he is confused about the definition of that term, but because he believes that "you should not define yourself by what you don't do." What Sage Francis "does" do is rap - very, very well. That is what he can be defined by.
Intellectually superior to his contemporaries in hip-hop, he is known for his thought provoking lyrics and intensity. Each and every track on his 'Personal Journals' album is delivered with an intense flow and near-confrontational style. It is Sage's fierce delivery that has seen him embraced by the punk community, signed to Epitaph, and have 'Makeshift Patriot' make an appearance on Punk-o-Rama Vol. 9. His intellectual, thought provoking lyricism stems from his spoken word work, as well as years of competing in rap battles. 'Hopeless'
, is recorded live at a battle and displays incredible raw emotion. The aforementioned track sees Sage building until he violently spits "I'm not emotionless, in fact I broke my wrist/ when I wrote the list of all those I miss." Elsewhere, on 'Personal Journalist'
Francis poetically in the 3rd person about himself as a peace-prophet over a sorrowful bass-line with violin accompaniment. However, there is a very sinister tone to the track as he claims "when he comes back from hell again/you'll have a few bones to pick with a fractured skeleton."
While Francis tends to stay clear of the narcissistic self-promotion that plagues mainstream hip-hop, at times he does stray into this area - however, he does this so conscientiously that it comes across as introspection, rather than arrogance. The best example of this is on 'Different'
, a track featuring a walking double-bass-line with autobiographical such as "I'm a real vegetarian: no chicken...not even fish/ I'm a real underground rapper/ my tape quality sucks, my records are warped and my CD skips". The track can be split into two halves, as the first minute or so features Francis adopting a free-rhythm vocal style, while in the second half he switches to rapping, while still maintaining that spoken-word style. 'My Name Is Strange'
sees Francis adopt a more commercial structure with choruses as well as, more importantly, embracing a blues-style with pan-pipes. It changes the pace of the album dramatically, unexpectedly, and most importantly, very well. Of course, Sage Francis is at his best when he sticks to his rapping style consisting of lyrics based around pop-culture references, vivid imagery and the occasional pun, all delivered with a fierce intensity. His unique style makes tracks like 'Crack Pipes
and 'Message Sent'
among the best on the album.
A lot of people (this reviewer included) tend to neglect hip-hop because of the thoughtless and artless nature of some of the artists that radio and TV tend to force down our throats. However, as Sage Francis' 'Personal Journals' shows, there are rappers out there with conscientious lyrics, intellectually beyond doing drive-bys and being pimps. At the end of 'Personal Journalist', the collection's title track, if you will, you can faintly hear Francis shout "by the end of this album, I want you to know who Sage Francis is…" Well, mission accomplished, quite frankly. Sage Francis is one of the best rappers out there today. His uniquely intense style, which gives him appeal beyond hip-hop fans, is brilliant, and makes 'Personal Journals' well worth checking out.