I recently exchanged some emails with Epitaph's flagship hip hop act, Sage Francis. Fiercely political and representing some of the best of underground hip hop, Sage talked about his new album, politics and his work on the film, Pride and Glory. His new album, Human: The Death Dance was released May 08, 2007.
The new album seems to back and forth between personal experiences ("Keep Moving","Going Back to Rehab") and the more political ("Waterline"). Do you feel that your albums are a collection or songs or do you aim for a flow to them?
This album is more about personal experiences than anything else. I think there's a flow as far as how the songs are organized and the subject matter involved. At the same time I try to have peaks and valleys in the listening experience of what I do. This album in particular probably has a mixtape feel to it, but if that's how it sounds to most people than so be it.
I find myself listening to mix CDs more than full albums these days. But I do respect the craftsmanship that's involved when making an album and having that album be composed of parts that all work together to create a greater whole.
Brett from Epitaph speaks frequently about your specific type of hip hop as representing a new type of punk rock. This is your second full length for the label. How do you feel the experience has been so far?
The new type of punk rock is the old type of hip-hop. Punk and hip-hop shared many ideals in the beginning stages, but both of these genres have become the status quo. Status quo is what both of these genres started off rebelling against and with good reason. This is the inherent quandary that authentic artists have to deal with in each respective genre. As a DIY stalwart, I'm content with the experience I've had with Epitaph. They've given my music the exposure it needs and growth is definitely happening.
There is a pretty stark difference between mainstream rap music and the hip hop that you perform. What contemporary hip hop acts are meaningful to you?
It's difficult for me to find a lot of meaning in contemporary hip-hop. I can find meaning in anything, but the hip-hop acts that are meaningFUL to me are usually my friends and listing their names could be viewed as shameless. There are a few people doing stuff that I derive a lot of meaning from. Buck 65, Prolyphic, Brother Ali, Atmosphere, Sole, El-P, and there's many more but most of them aren't contemporary per se.
As involved as you are in music, your political work (like knowmore.org) seems to a major part of your focus. Was there anything in particular that led you to get so publically involved?
It's all about my responsibility to use my access and influence for the greater good of the community of people who have given me whatever status and power I have. I actually have a conscience.
You've also been very outspoken regarding Clear Channel. Can you explain a little about what your major concerns are?
I'm concerned about people getting all of their information from one source. I'm concerned about the extinction of flavor and the rule of homogenized culture.
You were pretty concerned about the freedom/security debate as early as 2001. "Makeshift Patriot" seems more prophetic now than ever. Any thoughts on that?
Everything played out in a way that I feared and warned about on Makeshift Patriot. I don't know what else could have said or done in a time when most people weren't saying or doing anything. Scary business. We're in the middle of a 10 year war.
I notice there are many different producers involved with the album. I'm wondering how you collaborate with them; do they work on finished songs or is it more of a back-and-forth?
It's different with each person. Sometimes someone sends me a full beat and I am able to record a song to it as it is. Other times I'll record the song and have them rearrange the music and then I'll re-record my vocals over the new version. In the case of Mark Isham, I recorded my vocals in his studio and then he sent the songs to me with completely new music. Usually there is a back and forth though.
How is your work on "Pride and Glory going. How did you get involved with that?
That's been 2 years in the making and I've only been involved to a minimal degree. Did a few songs and I'm waiting to do more but I don't know what will end up getting used or if I'll have the chance to do more music. I'd like to. Working with Mark Isham is exciting.