Li(f)e, by Sage Francis
Suggested by Rico James
I have a Spotify playlist called Last Song on Earth. This introduction is not about that playlist. This introduction is about a secondary playlist I made, called Last Song on Earth 2.
Last Song on Earth 2 was a precursor to this project. In 2016, faced with a solitary coach trip of interminable length, I reached out to my Facebook friends for song suggestions to while away the time. I received suggestions, in spades. I listened to each song, and rated each Hit or Miss with a pithy comment.
Looking back on that post now, there’s a fair few friends who’ve went on to suggest albums for this project, some of which contain songs they suggested four years ago. One such suggestion was the song Little Houdini, by Sage Francis, offered up by today’s suggester Rico J. Back then, I rated it a Hit. It even made my Top 5 Finds of the day.
I promised I’d check out Sage’s back catalogue. I never did, of course. But, through the magic of the 1000 Albums Project, I am righting that misstep today!
For those not in the know, Sage Francis is an American rapper, born in Miami but raised in Rhode Island. He offers a fresh and independent sound, which on Li(f)e is best described as Storied Rap over Indie Hip Hop. This is not your usual low-fi beats and impenetrable lyric. There’s no glorifying of self, violence, money or genitals. Not once did Sage Francis say “Yo, Sage Francis, yeah, Ess-Ay-Gee-Eee, uhh, Sage Francis.”
Little Houdini is Li(f)e’s opening track, and I find it as captivating as I did four years ago. It’s the pure standout of the album, concerning a perennial prison escapee looking to be at his parents’ bedsides as they prematurely die. Over a strummed country guitar, Francis delivers a poised performance that’s part Rap and part Spoken Word or Performance Poem. There’s desperation his voice, which is wholly in keeping with the subject matter. There’s also a sense of Eminem, to the whole album in fact, but the brutal honesty is lyrical and intelligent rather than bludgeoning or crass.
After such a fantastic opener, it’s to be expected that the following tracks can’t live up to it. Three Sheets to the Wind is a bouncy rocking piece, with straightforward lyrics. It’s decent, but nothing inspiring. I found I Was Zero to be legitimately irritating, with the repeated lyric “Ten years ago I was twenty-two / Twenty years ago I was twelve / Thirty years ago I was two / But when I came out my mother I was zero.” Thanks for that, Sage. Here’s one for you. “Two plus two is four / Minus one that’s three, quick maths.” As the tracks roll by, there’s a sense of deja-vu to the whole thing, as if you get the mark of the man pretty quickly and the rest is there for extra credit. But the album’s highly personal final track, The Best of Times, is the second strongest offering, so the album is topped and tailed in style.
I’m being churlish, I think. Li(f)e is a fine work, getting 7/10 today. Musically it’s innovative, and lyrically it swaggers with confidence. After Little Houdini, I demanded the moon, but there’s beauty in the constellations provided.