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Indie-rap heavyweight Sage Francis shares his MN memories

Sage Francis

Sage Francis

This Saturday, underground hip-hop hero Sage Francis will make his triumphant return to First Avenue. While the Rhode Island native made his mark all over the hip-hop map, Twin Cities rap audience have embraced him as if he was one of our own for almost two decades. We caught up with Sage, whose Going Through Hell tour also features B. Dolan, to discuss his relationship with Minneapolis and his new album, Kill the Wolf.

City Pages: Where did this tour's name, "Going Through Hell" come from?

Sage Francis: It's from a Churchill quote that I messed around with in my "Vonnegut Busy" song. "When it feels like you're going through hell, keep going." I actually reached out to my fans online to see what the tour should be called, and that's what we decided on. It's perfect. A Minnesota artist named Pat Jensen put together the artwork for the tour poster as soon as we settled on the tour name. He nailed it as always. 

CP: Now that you've been performing songs from Copper Gone live for over a year, were you surprised at all by any live reactions certain songs received, or any interpretations of songs from fans you didn't expect?

SF: I think that "Dead Man's Float" really came to life in the live setting. And as I mention that, I realize it's another Minnesota plug as Cecil Otter produced that beat [laughs]. But, truly, that's a song I wasn't sure would work well live considering how many detours it takes from point A to point Z. The fact that the crowd chimes in with the back-up chorus vocals with little-to-no prompting is the kind of thing I live for on stage. 

CP: Along with supporting Copper Gone, this tour also comes on the 10th anniversary of your A Healthy Distrust album. Over the years, you've referred to it a handful of times as the album you find to be your best. Do you still feel that way and what is it about that project that stands out to you?

SF: I try to stay away from saying what my "favorite" is, because every album of mine was delivered through painful labor. A Healthy Distrust is a fan favorite for sure. I'm discovering that more so on this tour thanks to a slew of people telling me that it was the main album they listened to in high school and now they finally get to see me live. That's such a trip for me. For several reasons. One reason is that I would never think to tell the emcees I admired that they bring me back to my high school days. That sounds like an awful thing to me. But, really, no complaints here. I'm always happy to know that an album of mine has connected with people and, even though AHD seems like yesterday to me, I'm glad people can be nostalgic about it. 

CP: You've been playing shows in Minnesota for over 15 years now. Do you recall your first time playing here?

SF: I'm guessing it was around 2000, and maybe it was when I first toured with Atmosphere, but I don't really remember. I definitely recall some of the crazy things that went down during my early performances in Minneapolis, but I can't recall the very first time I was there.

CP: Being the show this weekend is at First Avenue, do you recall your first time playing First Ave?

SF: I think it was the last show of the Fill In The Blanks Tour that I did with Atmosphere and Eyedea & Abilities. Slug often claims that that tour was his favorite, and I'm inclined to agree. Everything was so fresh, wild, stupid, fun, new, challenging, and energetic. I remember stripping down to my underwear on stage as part of the celebration for ending a highly successful run. Next thing I know, Abilities ran on stage in his underwear and he jumped on me. And then, at some point, Mr. Dibbs, who was DJing for Atmosphere at the time, chugged a bottle of water and then regurgitated it onto my naked chest while I freestyled about it. I saw him the other day in Cincinnati and he punched me in the belly while I was rapping, but I'd be damned if I'd let him throw up on me while I rap in 2015 [laughs]. Seriously though, back then we were just vibing off of the possibility of anything and everything popping off at any given moment. It was great.

CP: What changes, if any, have you noticed about performing in Minneapolis over the past almost two decades?

SF: The changes have probably been more about myself than anything outside of myself. Minneapolis has always been incredibly loving and supportive. I often tell tales about the hip-hop love in Minneapolis the way people used to speak about finding gold in California. 

CP: Having seen you perform in quite a few cities, it seems like you have a special connection with Minneapolis fans. Would you agree that's the case, and if so, why do you think that is?

SF: You know, despite all the time I've spent there and all of deep relationships I've built, I don't think I have an especially special connection with Minneapolis fans. Not to say that I wouldn't want that, but my interactions with them are very similar to everywhere else I play in the world. If anything I might have less one-on-one time with fans there than most other places due to how many people come out to show love. And, again, no complaints here. If I was a lesser man I would have moved there long ago to bask in all the support. That's not good for my "Cranky Frank," curmudgeon ways though.