Album Review

Sage Francis "Li(f)e"

Aaron George
One of the more interesting voices of the Midwestern underground rap scene, Sage Francis has made a career of brain scratching, honest, and subversive poetry put to a beat. Li(f)e is his latest release, getting its name from a previous lyric of his that claims that “life is just a lie with an “f” in the middle”. His first major album in three years, Li(f)e also acts as, most likely, his final outing and marks the beginning of an indefinite hiatus.

As a great swan song Li(f)e might not live up to expectations. It is a solidly good album though, and makes a decent cap to Sage’s body of work. You can hear the maturation of this album in that it branches into other genres of music. There are still plenty of samples and hip hop to be heard, but the amount of rock-inspired beats is striking.

Lyrically Sage is as potent as ever, challenging the listener to think while maintaining a down to earth feeling that is seriously lacking in most “serious” underground rap music. One of Sage’s biggest appeals has always been his ability to avoid the common pitfalls of greed and hyper-sexuality that plague mainstream rap, while also steering clear of the absurd, often psychotic imagery of so many of his underground peers. There is no grisly murder at work, and if he mentions money or guns it is in reference to his lack of and displeasure with them.

The one drawback of this fine line he walks is that at times he comes off a bit obtuse. In songs like “I was Zero” lines such as the chorus of “When I came out my momma I was zero” have a tendency to leave the listener at a loss of any real conclusion. It’s not that these things don’t make sense, but it begs the question of what makes them worth singing about and the context does little to help you understand.

The high point of the disc is easily the final song “The Best of Times” which acts as an overview of the artist’s life and touches on several subjects most people can relate to. As cheesy as this may sound “Best of Times” plays almost like a goodbye to Sage’s nine year career. The song starts off nearly A Capella. As it progresses it plays in an extended swell, finishing in a loud and strong argument against living a quiet, easy life.

There is a good chance that there will never again be an alcohol and drug free, vegetarian, politically minded rapper who has such an impact as Sage has had. Luckily he left a healthy amount of material to be enjoyed until that happens. If you have never heard Francis before, you may want to start somewhere earlier in his career, what the earlier albums lack in top 40 sensibility, they make up for in energy and profundity. Li(f)e is quieter than usual, more reflective, more a solemn “farewell” than anything...Au revoir, Sage.