By Conor Hooley
He’s an iconic rapper, a freestyle champion, a respected label owner and a bona fide underground legend. He’s Sage Francis, in other words, and after over a decade spent crafting some of hip-hop’s most forward-thinking, challenging and, indeed, classic material, he’s still going strong. In an exclusive interview with Scene, Mr. Francis shared his thoughts on a number of semi-important subjects: his upcoming appearance at the Cache Flow Festival, hip-hop taboos, WWF action figures and whether or not the UK is still technically a part of Europe.
Scene: In your interview with Rap Ireland you mentioned that you’ve become a bit more selective with the dates you play these days. What interested you about the Cache Flow Hip-Hop Festival?
Francis: Colorado has an amazing indie-hop scene. It’s been one of the most supportive places for artists like me since the late ‘90s. So when an appropriate offer is made for a territory that is as hot as Colorado, chances are I will take it. Almost always.
Scene: Coming from a non-traditional hip-hop market like Rhode Island, do you look to play in similar areas, like Fort Collins?
Francis: I definitely have a soft spot for small towns and “B” or “C” markets that often get skipped on big tours. That’s the best thing about my post-tour life; I get to make random appearances in random places and then go home immediately after. There are no great tour expenses for me to worry about and consider when choosing places to play.
Scene: The music on your last album, LI(F)E, was primarily live instrumentation. Have you been trying to incorporate that into your recent live performances?
Francis: I incorporated live instrumentation on my last US tour when I was touring the LI(F)E album. In fact, I brought a seven-piece band with me. I wanted to go all out for my last major jaunt across the continent. However, I feel much more comfortable as a solo performer and I can’t imagine ever putting on a huge production again. I just want to have fun onstage and explore the one-man show thing. That’s what I’ve always preferred.
Scene: You’ve played a handful of shows overseas (for instance, you have a date booked in Sweden at the beginning of July). What are some of the differences, good or bad, in the American and European hip-hop markets? Where have been some of your favorite places to play in Europe?
Francis: Well, Europe has very different crowds in all the different countries. So, in that way, it’s the same as America. The crowd in California is different than the crowd in Connecticut. And the crowd in Germany is different than the crowd in Amsterdam. But I’ll always be bugged out by non-English speaking crowds who go crazy at my shows. I have no idea what they enjoy about me and that taps into a weird insecurity of mine. Like…am I a clown to them? Am I stupid fat American clown to these guys? (Laughs) My favorite places to play in Europe are probably all in the UK…if that’s still considered Europe. I have no idea what I’m talking about anymore.
Scene: Your songs cover a range of topics that are often taboo, especially for hip-hop. What is the appeal of controversial or untouched subjects to you?
Francis: If there’s an appeal that is driving me to do that, I suppose it might be the ability to explore subject matter that isn’t properly explored via a medium that I think could use a broader scope of topics.
Scene: Given the meteoric rise of shock-rap like OFWGKTA, how do you tread the line between using controversial topics for substantive purposes versus being taboo for the sake of shock value?
Francis: Being taboo for the sake of being “naughty” and “rebellious”…that’s for kids. And kids will be kids. And kids have their place in music obviously. But it’s not for me. Not entirely anyway. For the most part I am entertained and inspired by grown man shit. I feel no shame in that and I don’t like feeling like I’m expected to take kiddie shit seriously on any level. I hate kids. Unless kids like my music, in which case they’re the fucking best.
Scene: You’ve mentioned that you’re trying to branch into music production. How has that been going for you? How would you describe your sound as a producer?
Francis: I’ve always been involved with the production of my music. However, as far as beat-making goes, that is something I’ve kept under wraps for close to 15 years now. I can’t say much about it. I’d rather just let the music speak for itself. Hopefully I can put the puzzle pieces together and release something completely self-produced within the next few years.
Scene: What can we look forward to in the future from you and/or your label, Strange Famous?
Francis: This year Strange Famous Records will be releasing an album called Rooftop Shake from a new group called The Metermaids. Other than that, Prolyphic is working on an album with Buddy Peace called Working Man, Cecil Otter is finalizing a follow-up to his classic Rebel Yellow album, Scroobius Pip is wrapping up a solo project, and B. Dolan is working on Volume Two of his House of Bees mixtape series while he records songs for his next official release. As for me, you can expect a steady stream of material on all fronts until I completely burn out. Songs, mixtapes, albums, books, videos, blogs, tweets and Facebook updates, random fart sounds, etc. I don’t know in which order all of those things are going to happen, but they’re all currently in the buffering stage.
Scene: You’ve been very outspoken against music piracy, specifically bootlegging through blogs. What steps have you taken, both as an artist and a label owner, to prevent that? Moreover, what’s worked and what hasn’t?
Francis: I don’t really take any steps other than address the issue openly. Sometimes I contact people directly and ask them to respect our situation. That usually works when direct contact is possible.
Scene: You grew up a wrestling fan. Plan on doing any flying elbow drops in honor of the Macho Man? Freestyling over the “Be a Man” beat?
Francis: If someone sends me that instrumental then maybe I’ll cook up something sweet in his honor. My kitchen counter is currently occupied by all the old WWF figurines, back when toys were made out of parts that didn’t move. Wasn’t I the one talking about maturity and “grown man shit”? Hey, look at that…I’m feeling like a kid again.
Find our more about Sage Francis and his label, Strange Famous, online at strangefamousrecords.com/sage-francis