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Sage Francis - Personal Journals

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Artist: Sage Francis

Album: Personal Journals

Label: Anticon

Review date: Apr. 22, 2002

Many reviews open with neatly packaged mini-biographies of the artist being discussed: where they were in 1968, how their discography has shaped the course of certain genre, how they did important work with so-and-so, etc. You get the point. I have the unique experience (and the pleasure) here of reviewing the first professionally-recorded-and-released album by Sage Francis, a poet, emcee and personal journalist that will someday have plenty written about him. And, taking Personal Journals as the benchmark, one can assume that people will be writing more than just mini-biographies about what will, one can only hope, be his significant influence on hip hop music.

However, the fact that this album is Sage’s first professionally pressed solo LP doesn’t mean that he’s recent to the scene. So, some background might be useful: he’s a champion battle emcee (Scribble Jam 2000), the lead singer of a live hip hop-plus band (Art.Official.Intelligence), has released a pair of legendary 12”s with Joey Beats as Non-Prophets (Drop Bass, All Word No Play), and is now four installments deep into his self-released Sick Of Waiting series (Sick Of Waiting, Still Sick…, Urine Trouble, Sick Of Waiting Tables, and Sick Of Waging War). If that curriculum vitae sounds lengthy, wait until you hear the (work?) experience that Sage lists on the title track: “Sage Francis: anti-socialite, secret admirerer, student loaner, continental drifter, professional bootlicker, spin doctor, self-referentialist, roadrunner, personal journalist.” But as already stated, it’s not where you’re from. The question remains however, with Personal Journals, where is Sage Francis at?

Bluntly put, the album is a masterpiece. The combination of Sage Francis’s boldly self-searching poetry with the beats of some of underground hip hop’s most talented producers is out-and-out breathtaking, from the opener “Crack Pipes,” that brilliantly flips Sixtoo’s impossible-to-rhyme-over beat from his instrumental opus The Secrets That Houses Keep, to the closing bars of “Runaways,” the Joey Beats-produced outro that is quite haunting in its beauty. If I seem to be gushing in this review it’s because I’ve never encountered an album like this before; as one friend of mine put it after having the album for a week, “be careful listening to anything else after you listen to Sage’s CD—it won’t seem as good.” I could go through the track listing and give a good reason to listen to every single song (even the instrumentals are doing something interesting! Reanimator and Mr. Dibbs both flip Sage’s lyrics from the notably absent “Mullet,” giving the tracks more meaning and the poem a sort of virtual presence on the album); I’ll spare your eyes though and just say that this album is important in ways that won’t be recognized for a long time.

So then, where is Sage Francis going? The end of the lyric that is the title to this review is “and I am going home.” And perhaps, in some ways, he is. In the liner notes to the album, he mentions that the Non-Prophets LP is a project for the next year, which means a return to Joe Beats and Rhode Island, in his words “the land of the lost souls.” But one imagines that somewhere in these Personal Journals that read like they were written in blood Sage has found some part of himself, recovered some of that lost soul. And I for one am looking forward to hearing the results.

By Daniel Thomas-Glass

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