Sage Francis - Human the Death Dance (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Sage Francis

Human the Death Dance (2007)

Epitaph Records

The music of rapper Sage Francis has always been deeply rooted in punk ethos. Francis built his career on DIY ethics, his (often evolving) political charge is sharply left-leaning, and in 2005 he even made the jump to punk heavyweight Epitaph for a three-album deal. Human the Death Dance, his second Epitaph release, is his strongest and most genre-defying; ultimately, it evokes the spirit of punk music in its multi-headed attacks on the powerful, its self-deprecating introspection and its bold risk-taking.

The most evident brave shift on this record is the music that accompanies Sage’s incisive rhymes. Earlier Francis releases showcase chaotic and unique beats, but they were, for the most part, ultimately founded on traditional hip-hop styles. On Human the Death Dance, Sage employs eleven different producers to evoke entire new genres and approaches much of hip-hop rarely touches. “Got Up This Morning” is a haunting country-western parable that leans more on fiddle and harmonica than on drum and bass. “Hell of a Year” has a smooth, melancholy noir feel, complete with an eerie saxophone, and it could easily score an old detective film. “Good Fashion” and “Waterline” draw their power from emotive string sections and a complete lack of percussion. Even on the songs that take a more traditional approach (“Underground for Dummies,” “Civil Obedience,” “Call Me Francois”), the music still feels light years more revitalized and original than on your typical hip-hop release.

Francis shifts his lyrical content from the almost entirely political A Healthy Distrust to musings (or more directly, attacks) on a wider array of targets. “Underground for Dummies” wages war on the music industry while simultaneously serving as a chronicling of Sage’s career. “High Step” is a song-length metaphor comparing religious idolatry to modern sports. “Hoofprints in the Sand” is an acerbic look at American health care and the brutality of wealthy corporate greed. Sage returns to his introspective roots on “Hell of a Year,” “Waterline” and “Black Out on White Night," all for an emotionally gripping effect. The point is, there’s a bigger scope of Sage’s wisdom and criticism on Human, but the clever intensity is still there in equal dosage.

Human the Death Dance is a hip-hop record for punk fans. Musically, there’s something for everyone, and rarely does the atmosphere remain the same for long. Sage will go on to write two records that continue to break the rules of hip-hop in Li(f)e and Copper Gone. But neither will fully recapture the level of entertaining and thought-provoking wisdom espoused on this record.