Hugo Lunny: I'm taking it that this material is very dear to you, could you elaborate a little on the album's content?
Sage Francis: It's called 'Personal Journals' for fuck's sake.
(Full interview here)
Like the man says, the title 'Personal Journals' is a fine summation of what we have on this album. To recap, if you're not familiar with Sage: Sage Francis is a white straight-edge MC from Rhode Island, known for battling in Metallica shirts and kicking spoken-word poems on ESPN. If you've heard of him before, you probably have clear expectations for this album: the greatest thing ever, or another dose of crappy anticon wank. It's a shame, since 'Personal Journals' is a terribly unique album that's likely to surprise all, for better and worse.
Sage dedicates an entire song, with a superb Sixtoo track, to asserting how he is "Different," but its hardly necessary. The extremities of most opinions regarding the "Avant Guardian Angel Dust Mite" are mainly due to his individuality: the raspy voice which puts so many people off, the spoken-word influenced delivery which fluctuates all over, and the meticulous lyrics which combine idiosyncratic concerns and imagery with more traditional (though consistently excellent) syllable flipping. "Climb Trees," the bass-heavy Jel produced single with one of Sage's most singular flows, is filled with complex rhymes more apt for Eminem or Nas than Doseone: "I have become the most sinister sin city slicker/ cynical dim-witted trickster/ critical shit-grinning hipster." The content of the song gets somewhat obtuse, but Jel's typical production skill and Sage's entertaining mic presence make it a fine example of the album's strengths.
As a lyricist, Sage would alienate less for his rhyme skills than his topics. If Slug, the most common name invoked in reference to Mr Francis's style, is self-aware, then Sage is self-devouring: the album examines himself in a thorough and sometimes off-putting way. "I've got multiple personalities and my inner children are runaways," he states on "Runaways," the bleak closing song about loneliness, after an album of alienation, misery and anger that lives up to the gloomy cover. "Message Sent" has the isolation building up around the narrator to a frightful degree when he was "already depressed," but Alias's rolling guitar samples keep it from being too morose. "Crack Pipes," the opener, talks of a relative struggling with substance abuse whom Sage remains disconnected from: "I'll chisel every single monkey off your back" he promises, but it seems futile. The sentiment is echoed on the previously released "Inherited Scars," where DJ Mayonnaise's stunning production backs Sage's plead to his self-abusive sister. These moments of earnestness occasionally backfire, especially the overly cloying "Broken Wings," but for the most part they let one connect directly to Sage.
If "Broken Wings" was the only misstep here then this album would easily get a 9, but Sage does stray from quality a few other times, which hurt the overall product. "Smoke and Mirrors," despite a decent Jel beat, is a first-person narrative of a shallow woman: Sage has done similar things, with greater success, on songs like "Eye of the Tiger" and "Narcissist," but this boring track suffers from a lack of wit and the pettiest of satirical targets (Oprah? Danielle Steel?). "Eviction Notice," with a terrible odd nosdam beat (and I like odd nosdam) breaks the feel of the album, although Sage's mic efforts aren't so bad. The same can't be said for "My Name is Strange," a live folk song about Sage not enjoying being a rapper. It's the self-indulgent type of joke track you'd expect on one of Sage's 'Sick of Waiting' installments, and its presence on this real album just doesn't work.
But the strengths outweigh these failings: a compendium of dope beats from Anticon's finest beatmen (Sixtoo, DJ Mayo, Alias, Controller7, Jel), a series of intricate and intelligent songs, and an emcee who defies the pigeonholes most rappers these days slip into. For a debut album, 'Personal Journals' is astounding, but for a rapper with sage's catalogue it's a little disappointing.