Healthy Distrust - Sage Francis
by Mike D'Ariano
month after September 11th, underground rapper Sage Francis recorded a
song called "Makeshift Patriot" and released it via the internet.
The song was a potent look at the attack on America and while it was sensitive
to the horrors of that day, it was also critical towards the way the media
and the Bush administration handled it. In one section of the song, Sage
raps the line, "We don't really know who the culprit is, but he looks
like this" and then recalls something that I remember clearly, but
don't think I've heard anyone talk about for the last three years
the fact that as the buildings were still burning, the major news outlets
were airing a tape, obviously file footage, of Palestinians cheering in
The song ends with what I would estimate as a mid-60's quote from Bob
Dylan, "Seriously, if I wanna find out anything, I'm not gonna read
Time magazine. I'm not gonna read Newsweek. I'm not gonna read any of
these magazines. I mean they've just got too much to lose by printing
the truth. You know that."
doesn't matter if you agree with his politics or not, the song is brilliant.
For me personally, the fact that it was out in October 2001 makes it infinitely
better. That was a time where everyone was bursting with American pride.
Bruce "Vote For Change" Springsteen was on TV with a slew of
other Bush bashers saying nothing to that effect and in fact singing about
how great this country is. The Sage Francis song while more intelligent
than most of the anti-Bush sentiment that arose in the coming years
was also, and this is important to me and about as far from the bandwagon
of its times as possible.
Sage was then signed to the traditionally punk rock label Epitaph records,
and "Makeshift Patriot" was released officially on the eighth
volume of their Punk-O-Rama series. Sage's full length Epitaph debut,
A Healthy Distrust was released in early 2005.
After "Makeshift Patriot" and with an album title like A Healthy
Distrust, I was expecting Sage's album to be heavily political. I knew
I wasn't going to agree with everything he said, but I knew it was going
to be said in a fashion that was enjoyable. To my surprise, the album
is very enjoyable and not political. There's an element of it scattered
throughout, but the songs are about all kinds of stuff, like women, Johnny
Cash, and magic . . . magic? When flipping through the CD booklet, I noticed
another Bob Dylan quote (credited to Robert Zimmerman) which speaks to
exactly this aspect of the disc. "To cater to an audience's taste
is not to respect them, and if the audience doesn't respect that, they
don't deserve respect."
good news and a lack of plethora of "Fuck Bush" tunes
is in no way bad news is that while the lyrical content was not
what I was expecting, the style and flow of Sage Francis' raps were completely
on par with what I had heard before. There are lyrical tributes
or perhaps they're meant to mock (who can tell) to both Eminem
and Ice-T and amongst an overall exceptional collection of lyrics, there
are a handful of absolutely classic lines. My favorite, and you have to
understand that it sounds far better than it will ever read, is a play
on the traditional rap call and response "when I say hip, you say
hop" in the song "Escape Artist"
.."When I say
hip, you say 'shut the fuck up we ain't saying shit', and I'll respect
In that line, when Sage rips apart the oldest cliché in the hip-hop
book, he's really giving a nod to his fans smart enough to realize that
this is the new hip-hop, where the artist isn't going to patronize the
listener. In the age of bling bling, here's another song about how many
cars I have, and how big my wheels are (when the hell did that become
cool). Sage Francis is most definitely a breathe of fresh air.
Aside from his lyrics, Sage's beats are also worth mentioning. Instead
of rapping over a section of a Broadway show tune (Jay-Z) or some mid-level
1980's pop hit (Eminem), the beats on A Healthy Distrust are provided
by true DJ's like Dangermouse and Reanimator which give the music just
a little more freshness and credibility.
If you're into hip-hop, or would like to be but are irritated by all of
the silliness and posturing in mainstream rap, this album is very much
worth checking out, but be sure to get a hold of "Makeshift Patriot"
as well, which is a modern classic in protest music.