Review Summary: With Li(f)e, Sage attempts to complete the transformation into more organic, folk and Americana influenced alt/indie music that was hinted at on 2007’s Human the Death Dance. Unfortunately, the experiment is a mixed bag at best.
Around the turn of the millennium a new hip hop sound emerged in various cities across the country, mainly in the Northeast and Midwest, that focused more on introspection, existential thinking and story-telling than much of the popular rap at the time. Garnering most of the press and attention for the so-called indie/emo hip hop movement were up-and-comers Atmosphere, Aesop Rock and Sage Francis. Sage built his reputation on a combination of slam poetry and battle-rapping – winning Scribble Jam in 2000 (while famously wearing a Metallica t-shirt). His debut full-length Personal Journals
won him both critical acclaim and instant credibility in the underground with its unique, atmospheric production and complex, deep-thinking lyrics.
, Sage attempts to complete the transformation into more organic, folk and Americana influenced alt/indie music that was hinted at on 2007’s Human the Death Dance
. Unfortunately, the experiment is a mixed bag at best. Most emcees that reach this stage of their careers (fourth or fifth album, entering their mid-30s) will try something new – either lyrically, musically or both – in an attempt to freshen their approach and perception. Atmosphere went with a live band and a vigorous emphasis on story-telling while Aesop Rock streamlined his sound to make it more accessible to the average hip hop listener. In theory, Sage’s move to a more stripped-down sound should compliment his poetry-influenced, introspective raps; however, the lyrics on Li(f)e
are even weaker than they were on his last outing and generally just sound tired and uninspired. His success was always rooted in sincerity and his ability to relate directly to the listener, but most of the songs here just seem forced and at times even cheesy (lines that end in “sad puppy dog face” don’t really do much to help his cause). The beats even falter at times, which takes the album from slightly enjoyable to absolutely un-listenable.
There are a few bright spots that keep the album from being a complete failure, such as “Diamonds and Pearls,” “Polterzeitgeist” and “16 Years,” and the album ends on a relatively good note with “The Best of Times” – but the abundance of weak material dooms Li(f)e
in the end. Give credit to Sage Francis for trying something new and different and you certainly can’t fault the guy for lack of a consistent vision; but Li(f)e
falls short due to the emcee’s shortcomings in the songwriting department this time around.