A Healthy Distrust - Sage Francis
by Mike D'Ariano
ne 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 streets.
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."
It 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."
The 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 it!"
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.