Sage Francis: Human The Death Dance

Rhode Island’s Sage Francis is the kind of MC that purists love to support given his articulate, socially conscious material. Unfortunately, wanting an album to be good doesn’t make it so. On paper, Sage’s latest, Human the Death Dance (Strange Famous/Epitaph) is everything a hip-hop album supposedly should be, but on vinyl, the overall work doesn’t live up to the expectations.At first impression, Human shows promise. Francis’s dense lyrics are full of interior rhymes and ten-dollar words as he raps his way through complex ideas. His attention to detail pulls the listener right into the scenarios he stages, like on “High Step” where Francis uses football as a precisely executed extended metaphor for the state of society. The same goes for “Hell of a Year” where the approach is more straight-forward but still resonates emotionally. The reverently traditional beats (“Broccoli Break”) fit in well with Francis’s overall message, often times carrying the weight when the lyrics get too clever for their own good (“Civil Disobedience”). For all his technical ability, Francis struggles to find anything productive to say. Francis raps with a tone of perceived moral superiority over his major label competition and falls back on this idea entirely too often. It isn’t much of a secret that “the industry” has its share of problems, so discussing them on record doesn’t turn heads the way it once may have. “Midgets and Giants” comes across as more bitter than insightful, much like the album as a whole. While many will agree with his opinions on modern commercial rap, Francis would be better served focusing on his own glass house instead of throwing stones. The “frustrated indie rapper” routine is becoming just as hackneyed as the super-thug image. Francis could in fact rise above it to be something more, but for this project, he never does.Sage Francis is a decent MC and Human the Death Dance is a decent album, but it’s hard to get much more excited than that about either. Underground poster-boys like Black Star or The Roots have seen crossover success without selling their souls, but did so simply by trying to make their music good rather than incessantly pointing out why everyone else’s isn’t good enough. From the subject matter to the odd title, Francis is trying too hard to prove a point that doesn’t need proving and his work has suffered for it.