Sage Francis' 'Healthy Distrust' for pop-rap

Sage Francis' new album A Healthy Distrust is, simply put, the future of underground rap. A Healthy Distrust is the finest political rap album to come out since Dead Prez's Let's Get Free, and could possibly revive rap the way Company Flow's Funcrusher Plus or Black Star's self-titled debut did in the late '90s.

Possibly the most brilliant lyricist in recent times, Francis blends his own brand of complex wordplay with a solid flow that is often lost on many indie MCs.

Francis' unorthodox style flaunts the conventions of rap music. He ignores the verse/chorus structure fundamental to music from both the mainstream and underground and has songs with shifting loops and tempos.

His music is to rap what emo/punk is to rock music, adding an introspective tone (without the whiny vocals and horrible guitar work). A word of advice, though: Francis' album is not for those looking for hook-laden dance music or for a political polemic in the vein of Public Enemy or The Coup.

The album opens with Francis' most political work since his song "Makeshift Patriot," titled "Buzz Kill." "Buzz Kill" features strings and a noise production that sounds like the progeny of the work of Public Enemy's Bomb Squad.

The verses, which feature Sage blasting modern radio's drab song lists and praising dissent, are broken up by the spoken word of a broadcaster speaking of Francis as rap's messiah. As cocky as it may seem, he is perhaps deserving of such a title, as evidenced by his rhymes attacking the social paralysis of liberals on the superlative track of the album "Slow Down Gandhi."

"Who can pen hateful threats but can't hold a sword/It's the same one who complain about the global war/But can't overthrow the joker that they voted for." On "Gandhi" Francis unifies his varying themes into an adventurous track attacking complacency, the loss of idealism and the war on Iraq.

Later in the album, Francis explores gun violence on the track "Gunz Yo." A rant against the pervasiveness of gun use in the United States which one would normally expect is supplanted with lyrics that examine the notion of a gun as a phallus and as a source of individual and political power. "Dance Monkey" would seem to be Francis' most mainstream track, but he injects his trademark touch, adding changes in tempo and flow in order to keep the song as distinctive as any other on the album.

Despite the more political lyrics, Francis returns to the examination of human relationships that became his trademark on his first release, Personal Journals. On Distrust he examines these issues in relation to the effect of society on people. Two of the strongest tracks on the album, "Ground Control" and "Bridle," examine loss and grievance with some of the best production on the whole album.

What ultimately prevents the album from being a masterpiece is Francis' wordy lyricism itself. It is a shame that Francis' strongest point is also his work's undoing. His brilliant use of metaphor and word play is what draws his fans to his music, but his delivery often sends the message over people's heads. Aside from this drawback, realize: the album will likely be the most inventive rap record for years to come.

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