Human the Death Dance
There's no denying Sage Francis's passion—for hip hop, for speaking truth, for expression itself. Nothing changes with Human the Death Dance, but where 2005's A Healthy Distrust dealt chiefly with today's dire sociopolitical landscape, here Sage looks inside to tackle all things personal. But don't worry, Sage-ophiles; unsurprisingly, his inner passions are still highly topical, if only because we've all had our fair share of heart-ripping love trysts.
As always, he's most effective when getting a little help from friends—whether it's Jolie Holland's alternately twangy and ethereal choruses (illuminating just how atonal Sage's own yelps really are) or Bryan Lewis Saunders's haunting, poetic bookends. He maintains his fetish for playing with vocal inner-melodies and flow variations, risks sounding more spoken word than boom-bap, and sticks to a militant flow polarizing enough to make you either a diehard fan or a vicious hater (especially within today's quickly cementing fall-in-line-or-get-dissed rap conformity).
Topics on Human are as far-ranging as childhood and death, and the beats are just dynamic enough to keep the thematic intensity tolerable, saving the disc from blunt tedium and elevating it to magnum opus manifesto. The numerous "love" songs are eclectically constructed narratives full of quirks and cryptic metaphors, which is damn sure more interesting than your typical rap approaches to relationships. Sage's more literate and relentlessly painful confessions may even beat out Slug's (sacrilege!), not for emotional immediacy, but ultimate poignancy. Plus, rap scene-indicting "Midgets and Giants" has a chanted chorus—You are really not all that dope—that's a perfectly succinct rebuff of the current mainstream manifesto "This is why I'm hot." Take that, shortie.