Best known for his intelligent, poetic approach to hip-hop, Sage Francis is also the founder of independent record label Strange Famous and even Scroobius Pip has cited him as one of his main sources of inspiration. After taking a four year hiatus from touring he is set to embark on a massive world tour that will hit Ireland this week. We spoke to him to discuss the dates, what is wrong with hip-hop in 2014 and the introspective nature of new album Copper Gone..
“I went about the writing on this album the way I’ve done on most other projects. My intention was to show varying displays of skill, build upon what’s already been established, and, most importantly, express what I’ve been feeling and thinking as an older guy operating within an industry obsessed with youth culture. Those damn youths!”
Were you hesitant to release any of the more personal tracks?
“During the years when I was putting together this project there were definitely a few verses and song ideas I eventually scrapped to save myself some headaches. But there’s nothing on the album that I was hesitant about, no. I try not to let that kind of stuff affect what I write and record, but if I feel like it’s going to cause more trouble in my life than it’s worth I design a labyrinth. Once the labyrinth pleases me there’s no need to hesitate with the release”.
Can you explain the hip-hop “cheat codes” that you make reference to on the album?
“Hip-hop has a long history of emcees calling out people who take shorts. They come in all forms. One main example is when rappers hop from trend to trend. They’ll see a popular sound and style, then adopt it as their own until the next thing happens. It doesn’t take any great skill to do that, just a lot of cheap hustle. Forever the follower, never the trail blazer. There are also the people who are constantly spending time doing parlour ticks and trying to go viral. Sometimes it’ll get them noticed, and they can make some quick money off of that, but they’ll always have a twerpy soul”.
The video for ‘Make Em Purr’ was one of the most visually striking this year. Were you heavily involved in developing it?
“I worked with a few people on that. We shot around a bunch of ideas until we settled upon the final story line. I didn’t want the video to mimic the lyrics too closely. It’s no fun when the video is a literal translation of the song. So, yeah, when all was said and done I was beyond pleased with how the visuals borrowed from the lyrics and then built upon the mood and narrative in its own powerful way”.
You make references to classic hip-hop songs throughout Copper Gone. Were you reliving some of those records before writing the album?
“No, not really. There’s no need. I grew up listening to hip-hop and those classics are embedded in my memory. A lot of those references have been building up on my head for ages actually. ‘Poor Righteous Teachers’ “this is not a love ballad” quote has been itching to get used forever. Surprised no one else has done that before. I’m especially happy I was able to re-work De La’s “Do it, do it, mess up my mind” bit. Fuck, that’s the hip-hop I really love and I don’t get nearly enough of it from the new albums. It’s important for me to refer back to that stuff while pushing forward”.
You are about to embark on a massive tour after a long hiatus. What promoted your return to performing live?
“Quite honestly I needed to do it for my mental and physical well being. I needed to get out of the house, get my body moving, interact with people, etc…”
How did you initially meet Scroobius Pip and subsequently sign with Speech Development Records in the UK?
“He attended a poetry performance of mine in 2006 at a London art gallery. How pretentious is THAT?? Haha. Nah, but there was an art show based around my lyrics that Inkymole put together. I was blown away. That’s when I first met Pip. He then gave some big shout outs to me when ‘Thou Shalt Always Kill’ dropped and we’ve been building together ever since. I released Angles on Strange Famous Records in the US along with their follow up album and then Distraction Pieces. My distribution has never been incredibly strong in the UK so when he asked if he could release Copper Gone out there I figured it had to happen to make the circle complete. Full circle jerks, 2014.
You have said before that Chuck D is one of the few remaining heroes in hip-hop. Are there many others still left in your opinion?
“Hero is a strong word and I know I throw it around loosely when speaking of Chuck D. He really is a great guy though. I don’t know what a hero is. It’s a fun word. “You’re my hero. You are a HERO.” Haha. I don’t know. Not sure if anyone is really a hero unless they scooped you out of the mouth of an erupting volcano or something like that”.
What is your biggest pet peeve about hip-hop in 2014?
“In the past few years there’s been this trend of new rappers who sound EXACTLY like another emcee. It’s not just “biting.” They basically adopt another rapper’s whole essence and they get applauded for the shit. I see these hip-hop blogs and websites fawn over these fucking dudes while I’m left wondering how it’s even allowed to happen. Biggest pet peeve by far”.
Do you have plans to start working on a new album after the tour is wrapped up?
“I have a couple ideas kicking around in my head and maybe I’ll get a good chunk of writing done during my next 50 shows. I’ll hopefully return home in 2015 with a crystal clear vision of what the next project should be. But there are a lot of things I need to do outside of the album making realm. I’m hoping to hit people with some more big surprises next year”.
Sage Francis plays Cork Cyprus Avenue (tonight, Thursday), Sligo Fifth on Teeling (Friday), Belfast Voodoo (Saturday) and Dublin Sugar Club (Sunday).