There’s a thin line between self-absorption and self-awareness. Eminem is self-absorbed. Sage Francis is self-aware. He’s also literate, erudite, contemplative and brutally honest, so at least that’s one thing he shares with Eminem.
Although his appearance might be better suited for a Metal guitarist or a band of Southern Rock crazies, Sage Francis is a Hip Hop poet, a rhyme-spitting existentialist with a finely tuned sense of irony and self-deprecation. Take the track “Vonnegut Busy” from his latest album, last year’s excellent Copper Gone, for instance; Sage references Of Mice and Men, The Sixth Sense, paraphrases Field of Dreams, describes his career as a “non-stop graveyard shift” and calls out Dante as a scrub. In fact, Sage lifted a line from “Vonnegut Busy” to dub his current Going Through Hell Tour — “When it feels like you’re going through hell, keep going.”
Francis — who calls his website “Electronic Chronicles of a Lovable Curmudgeon” — was born Paul Francis in Miami, Fla., and was inspired enough by the likes of Public Enemy and Run DMC to start composing and recording his own original lyrics at age 8. Four years later, he was sneaking out of the house to engage in Rap battles. Sage began his career in earnest in the mid-’90s, ultimately founding Strange Famous Records (now a legitimate, rostered label) in order to release archive material, particularly his Sick series of mixtapes.
Sage’s profile rose dramatically at the turn of the millennium. In 2000, he won Cincinnati’s fifth Scribble Jam (performing as Xaul Zan); the following year he hit Internet paydirt with “Makeshift Patriot,” a scathing indictment of the media’s 9/11 coverage. In 2002, Anticon released Sage’s official debut album, Personal Journals, and two years later he became Epitaph’s first Hip Hop artist, releasing three albums for the label — A Healthy Distrust, Human the Death Dance and Li(f)e — and guesting on the track “Let Them Eat War” from Bad Religion’s The Empire Strikes First.
In 2011, Sage announced he was taking a break, which lasted three years; he ended his hiatus with the self-released Copper Gone (the “press conference” that heralded his return was hilarious and is still posted at sagefrancis.net). If you look, feel, smell or party like hell, Sage Francis wants you.