Sage Francis is passionate. He is passionate about his politics (“A Healthy Distrust,” Epitaph Records, 2005). He is passionate about his personal life (“Personal Journals,” Anticon, 2002). He is passionate about hip-hop (Non-Prophets, “Hope,” Lex Records, 2003).
Fittingly, on his newest “Sick of” mixtape, “Sick of Wasting…,” we get a taste of all of these passions. On “Strange Fame,” Sage gripes about his starving artist lifestyle. On “Conspiracy to Riot,” he spits hot fire angst about our nation’s political climate. On “SFR Pays Dues,” Strange Famous Crew members, Sage Francis, B. Dolan, and Prolyphic, adeptly brag about their essential role in the rap game. Sage is ferocious and impassioned on every track. He has an ax to grind, and grind he does.
This consistent passion generally makes “Sick of Wasting…” a compelling listen. The Strange Famous King’s investment in his subject matter is contagious and engaging. Our MC cannot catch his breath, and neither can the listener.
The production is largely varied, but, like the vocal delivery, can consistently be described as raw. Some tracks, like “Needle,” employ a minimalist, lo fi boom bap, designed to magnify the naked emotion conveyed in the lyrics. On other tracks, such as the standout “House of Bees,” the production parallels the intensity of the delivery. On that track, B. Dolan and S.F. are out for pure blood, massacring any sellout that comes their way. The production features a chaotic crash cymbal, thumping horn, and tension-filled distortion. “Be a Star” features what sounds like a live, late-seventies punk band that places self-expression over rhythm and anarchy over order. The consistent distortion, low fidelity recording, and unrefined delivery give cohesion to the mixtape’s diverse production style and lyrical content.
Still, that “Sick of Wasting…” is a front-to-back emotional outpouring at times grows tiresome. While it is always entertaining to imagine Sage’s neck vein throb, the all-in-all-the-time style leads to a tape lacking meaningful fluctuations in mood and tone. Indeed, at a few points, it seems that Sage uses his passion as a crutch and is unable to spit any other way. On the closing song, “Who Farted?,” Francis barks lines like “Who farted?/Was it Captain Kirk/Did it smell even worse/Than his acting work” with impassioned sincerity. I suppose that his presentation is here part of the parody, but after an album of undeviating emotional investment, it may have served the Rhode Island b-boy well to just sound like he was joking for once.
That being said, S.F.’s abilities as a writer and thinker make up for his shortcomings as an MC. Each time I think a track is going to be whiny or boring, he drops either some insight or humor that turns my head. In the middle of the angry political polemic, “Conspiracy to Riot,” he observes, “When the hunter becomes the hunted, they outlaw hunting.” Food for thought, indeed. On the dis track, “I Trusted You,” he advises his opponents, “Don’t sweat the petty things/And don’t pet the sweaty things/And don’t hesitate to hit the deck when my machete swings.” Wordplay like that is tough to top.
Plus, he is able to throw a pop song in here or there if absolutely necessary. “SFR Pays Dues” features Francis along with B. Dolan and Prolyphic over a fast-paced piano hook. The track is remarkably catchy and clean-cut, without sacrificing the knock-down-drag-out-indie-rap sensibility characterizing the rest of the tape. Probably the best song on the album, and possibly one of the best of the year, “Pays Dues” demonstrates the dynamic abilities of this up-and-coming crew. Indeed, one or two more pop-influenced songs would have served the mixtape well and given the audience a few more moments to breathe.
At the end of the day, though, I do not want to harp on the shortcomings of this somewhat impromptu release. My main takeaway from “Sick of Wasting…” is that the music business better watch out for Strange Famous Records. B. Dolan is featured on several songs, all of which he murders. Sleep spits with an almost frightening ferocity on “Sea Legs,” which also features Curtis Plum dropping his unique brand of odd. Prolyphic holds it down on “SFR Pays Dues.” And, oh yeah, Sage Francis is a pretty good rapper too.