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Sage Francis Q&A

Donít Call it Emo Rap

You know the dynamic of hip hop has changed dramatically when a white rapper from Rhode Island that still lives in the house he grew up in can come to San Francisco and hold an audience at The Fillmore for two consecutive nights. After a series of underground tapes and CDs, Sage Francis released his first official LP in 2002, Personal Journals, on Oaklandís Anticon Records before joining Epitaph and releasing A Healthy Distrust in 2005 and his latest LP Human the Death Dance in May. Sage Francis spoke with SF Station en route to a tour stop in Florida.

SF Station (SFS): You are performing at the Fillmore for two nights, which is rare for a hip hop act at any San Francisco venue. What does that say about the genre and the market in general?

Sage Francis: Being one of the figureheads of the fringe part of the genre, I think it says more about California and its willingness to except new stuff and different takes on an older vehicle. The West Coast is very loving and accepting. I canít wait to get there because on the East Coast you have to push hard to get any kind of response. The West Coast is more fun.

SFS: On your new album you ask listeners to stop calling it emo rap (a term pegged to several independent rappers that pen songs about relationships, heartache and other emotional material). Did you ever embrace that term?

Sage Francis: That term, like many others, doesnít really seem to apply that well. Itís not all encapsulating, so itís tough to accept it because I know people use that term to dismiss an artist. Not only is it a term with ambiguity, but itís also used to dismiss the full character of what I am and what my contemporaries are. Every two or three years there is a term that the media latches on to because they want to feel like they can categorize music properly.

Honestly, we are doing something a little different than mainstream hip hop, but I donít think emo is good term for that. What the fuck is it even supposed to mean?

SFS: I have no idea.

Sage Francis: Yeah, see no one does. Itís short for emotion. Of course there is emotion in my music; there is emotion in good art and good music. If itís used as a term to dismiss an artist as whiney, I can definitely say that I do much more than whine. I can whine very well though, so maybe they should call it whine-hop.

SFS: When you signed with Anticon to release Personal Journals, did you really receive a $1 advance?

Sage Francis: Yeah, it was a $1 bill.

SFS: What did you spend it on?

Sage Francis: I have no idea. I should have framed it, but I probably spent it on a water bottle or something stupid.

SFS: Where does your new album fit in context with Personal Journals and the LP you did as Non-Prophets and A Healthy Distrust?

Sage Francis: I made an effort to have all styles that I used before, for the sake of reintroducing to people the styles that I have done and to put a cap on it. I worked with a variety of producers and it has some personal material, some straight-up battle tracks and political material. Itís a mish-mash of all of my styles and after this I just want to move on and away from the tradition of how Iíve been making records. I just want to do something new.

The obvious question after that is ďWhat am I going to do?Ē I donít have an answer to that. Iím going finish my tour and start exploring things.

SFS: Did you take that approach with the album because you are getting more exposure now and new fans?

Sage Francis: Maybe, but I think it is also for the previous audiences -- everyone I have captured with each album that has its own unique sound. Nothing that I do is incidental. I understand where the different styles come from and how to execute them and deliver them. Itís not luck of the draw every time I make an album. There is a purposeful path that I choose, and on this record I chose to have a few different paths. Some people may enjoy the personal stuff more than the other shit, and vice versa. But, whatever the case, I wanted to put it all on one record.

SFS: You are playing with a band on this tour, which is a different approach from your last San Francisco performance, where I think the motto was ďNo DJ, no turntable, no problem.Ē

Sage Francis: When I tour I always have a band with me. When I started I had a DJ, but when I do performances outside of tours I really have to just rely on myself because itís really hard for me to get people together just for just one performance. I can go out and hold a show down all by myself, but when I have 44 shows in a row, itís nice to have the ability to get people together to recreate music.

SFS: You sported a mullet wig a few years ago. Do you have anything planned this time around?

Sage Francis: I left the mullet wig in Baltimore on purpose because I didnít feel like wearing it anymore. I had a mustache tour, but I got rid of that. Iím just trying to shed material. I donít know, I have nothing but a sweaty beard this time.

Sage Francis performs June 19th and 20th with Buck 65, Buddy Wakefield and Alias. Tickets are $25. Doors open at 8pm and the show starts at 9pm.