Across The Margin: The Podcast presents an interview with underground rapper Sage Francis in a celebration of the twentieth anniversary of his renowned debut album, Personal Journals…
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This episode of Across The Margin: The Podcast presents an interview with independent underground rapper Sage Francis, widely considered one of our generation’s greatest lyricists. His career derives mainly from gifted wordplay which creates vivid narratives to instigate as well as inspire. Dubbed as the “forefather of indie-hop,” Francis originally earned acclaim in the early 2000s by winning the most highly coveted titles of the emcee battle circuit. With little to no funding, Francis sustained himself by selling his innovative “Sick of” mixtapes, all made by hand on the floor of his Providence, Rhode Island apartment. These were essentially bootleg compilations full of select recordings from his 12” vinyl singles, demo sessions, live performances, and radio freestyles. The popularity of these tapes birthed Strange Famous Records (SFR); a meager, one-man operation in 1999.
Despite having no official distribution, Francis’ unique brand of music spread like wildfire via the advent of file sharing networks. This resulted in him attaining a massive cult-like following around the world, creating a demand for his albums and live performances at which point the bigger labels took notice. With his first studio album, Personal Journals (2002), — the focus of this episode — Francis daringly set aside the more boastful side of rap by catering to his poetic leanings and scathing socio-political commentary.
In 2005 Francis was the first hip-hop artist signed to the punk rock label Epitaph Records and soon became one of the highest selling independent artists of his genre. Rather than abandon his day-to-day grind at SFR, he channeled all of his newfound resources into it, allowing the label to expand in staff as well as roster. Having fulfilled his contract obligations with Epitaph Records, Francis has returned to releasing music independently as he gears up to defeat the odds.
But, as alluded to, this episode focuses on where it all began for Francis, his aforementioned first studio album put into the world by the underground hip-hop collective Anticon in 2002. The ambitious eighteen track album featured dazzling production from a grouping of all-too-unheralded producers including Sixtoo, DJ Mayonnaise, Jel, Scott Matelic, Reanimator, Alias, Odd Nosdam, Controller 7, Joe Beats, and Mr. Dibbs. It’s a deeply personal album where Francis wears all of life’s suffering on his sleeve while inviting listeners to join in on a tour of the tortured, introspective mind of a gifted storyteller. While decisively weighty, Personal Journals is also witty, and full of hard-hitting old school boom bap hip-hop brimming with a slam poetry ethos.
Personal Journals, like few hip-hop albums ever birthed, is an amazing display of fearless honesty and it’s easy to look at the lyrical offerings of Personal Journals as akin to Francis pulling wide his scar tissue and narrating a detailed, candid tour of their frayed innards. It’s hard to think that rappers such as Tyler the Creator, Dave, Logic, Isaiah Rashad, or Denzel Curry would feel so comfortable bearing their faults without trailblazers like Francis who lead the way. Francis’s career following Personal Journals is prodigious, and exploring his ensuing work is rewarding campaign unto its own, but it was Personal Journals, a respectable rigid self-examination of an album, flush with soul-baring lyrics, that will persist as the crown jewel of Francis’s legacy.
In this episode host Michael Shields and Francis discuss what Francis feels and about Personal Journals with twenty years of hindsight to consider. They explore the meaning behind a bevy of the tracks on the album while Francis shares stories about the Personal Journals recording sessions, how his intimate lyrics were received by those closest to him, and much, much more.
Bonus Feature: At the conclusion of the episode you will hear a snippet of a demo referenced in the interview of “Runaways” lyrics over the Alias beat which would eventually become the “Keep Moving” song on Human the Death Dance!
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