I’ve been waiting for Sage Francis to drop some material ever since he released Li(f)e in 2010. Finally, last month, Sage blessed us with the newest installment in his series of “Sick” mix tapes. Although it’s not an LP of new material, Sick to D(EAT)H retains a continuity of style and subject matter that exceeds that of most albums. That’s a profound achievement considering this tape spans almost twenty years of Sage’s career. While most tracks are from the after-Li(f)e, it’s still a trip to hear scenes of Sage’s past flash before your ears as you listen to the intro to D(EAT)H.
Just in time for Christmas, Gimme Dat from 2008 mirrors the lines we blur between needs and wants. It’s clear this track didn’t belong on Li(f)e, but it fits right in on this tape and sets the paces for tracks to come. The sloppy drum track cranks through from beginning to end. Hold on to your ten gallon tin foil jimmy hat, there’s more to come. Next up is the demo for a track called Zero that did make it onto his last album. This take is more frantic and rougher around the edges than its former-Li(f)e counterpart. The repetition of the word “zero” in the hook adds to the urgency felt in the rushing verses. The instrumental matches the lyrics more appropriately than the album take. I hate to say it, but this becomes a pattern for the other demos on this tape of previously released songs.
Blue was the first track released as a teaser for this mixtape. It’s a critical look at masculine socialization and its potentially devastating effects on soldiers returning from battle overseas. Sage keeps his cool verse after verse, sooth-rhyming his way through unfortunate life-lies and inconvenient truths.
Slow Death Demo ultimately turned into Slow Man on 2010’s Li(f)e. As Zero did before it, it features a less reserved sage. Again there are unfamiliar verses, rewarding of course. The beat also features banjo and other instruments which found their way onto the more folk-hop moments in Li(fe). The calmest song on the tape, Viva la Vinyl, is an analog elegy: a war cry for black sheep lost in the digital realm of hyper-accessibility. I wish this track were longer. It feature’s Jolie Holland’s haunting violin, the same we heard on Woke Up This Morning from Human The Death Dance. It’s a lament for the ritual of listening. Not pompous, just honest, and essential to the birth of hip hop.
Somber tones are turned on their heads with the playful funk beat of You Can’t Win. Side by side with beard-brother B. Dolan, this wild-n-out R&B jam bounces its way from the 70’s into 2014. “Ain’t no party like a botox party.” “They say they’re fans but they never bought an album from you!” Free download at https://soundcloud.com/strangefamousrecords
Rehab Demo became the closing track on Sage’s third album, Human The Death Dance. If you are familiar with it, you’ll hear once again how Sage subdues himself and finds a reserve when he steps in the studio to record final cuts. This song picks up the subject matter from the last track, Dark Arts Abridged. It confronts the struggle of addiction and his discovery that twelve steps aren’t enough. Origin to Descent contains knots of wordplay worthy of a combo-multiplier. Sage is at his prime lyricism game on this take. Thank Darwin for ambiguous linguistic evolution. The continuing saga of spiritual vs. lyrical.
The Tree of Knowledge is a little more slam-style than most of the Strange Famous catalog. From roots to branches, this first-person blason blossoms into a masterpiece of arboreal lyricism. Seriously, listen to this track a few times. The Tree of Knowledge is exemplary of Sage’s early style that led to his winning Scribble Jam in 2000.
Ubuntu (Water into Wine) was the life-link that bridged Sage to his fans over the troubled waters of living between releases. But this song isn’t about Sage, or his fans. It’s about his heroes: Zinhle, Sfundo, Snetemba, Zakheni, Ntokozo, and Thandiwe. “I see you. What’s good for you is good for me.” This track is the culmination of Sage’s onslaught on mis-organized religion described in the last few tracks: “I’m fine. Just praying for science to turn water into wine.” A true humanitarian by nature of being human, Sage’s passion presents a powerful message. He’s bringing them to us in this praise-poem: their names, photos, and so much more. Read more about Sage’s life changing experience in Durban, South Africa at tinyurl.com/sagefrancisUBUNTU
The last track I’m going to talk about is “The Baby Stays.” Sage’s idiosyncratic subject matter spans the length of the tape one more time. This live studio take for BBC is unbelievable in its delicacy. The eloquently picked guitar work weaves in and out of nursery rhymes and custody crimes. The folk touches on Li(f)e run their course once again.
I’ve run out of words to say. Sage stole them all and I’m speechless about how pleased this tape has made me. If you’re interested in Sage Francis’s music (or quirky and self-deprecating sense of humor), he’s personally active on social media. He has a particular gift for Vine. Sage owns his own label and releases all sorts of hip-hop delicacies by a surprising array of artists you may already know. He’s a great example of how to do independent releasing the right way, support your indie artists. www.strangefamousrecords.com
For another perspective on Sick to D(EAT)H, check out this review by Dakota Williams