A four-year hiatus has the potential to be a death knell to just about any Hip Hop artist’s career. But if the career of Providence, Rhode Island emcee and Strange Famous Records founder Sage Francis has taught us anything, it’s to never count out the underdog and to believe in the consistency of an artist dedicated to challenging himself and his audience through his craft. Sage’s sabbatical has officially ended with Copper Gone, a seething, confession-ridden, honest body of work that his most dedicated fans have been pining for since he temporarily stepped away in 2010.
Upon first listen, it’s easy to say that Copper Gone is a return to the kind of form Sage exhibited on albums like A Healthy Distrust and Human Death Dance. But, specifically, this is the sound of Sage Francis continuing to come of age as a respected and successful elder statesman in the underground Hip Hop scene without compromising his beliefs and opinions for political correctness. “ID Thieves” is a loud, relentless diatribe against emcees cosmetically claiming “underground” but not living up to what that means, while “Cheat Code” immediately follows it with a thick, subterranean boom-bap aesthetic that includes powerful production, opinionated rhymes, and is filled with a throwback attitude that longs for more honesty and competition in modern Hip Hop. Thus, the haunting, heavily creepy strings and wrathful flow on “Over Under” guide the listener to some pretty dark recesses of Sage’s inner struggles.
But it’s not just the brooding, darkly emotional feel to Copper Gone that makes it a gratifying listen. It’s also the fact that this is a project packed to the brim with powerful punch lines, where you constantly find yourself hitting the rewind button. Most listeners will probably be preoccupied with the line, “They say that anger is a gift / I’m very gifted, and if ignorance is bliss then I’m sadomasochistic” from “Pressure Cooker,” and rightfully so. But how about, “Barely even know if it appears as if I hate your guts / It’s just, both sides of my bed are the wrong one, and I’m always waking up…” from the same track? All are stark evidence that Sage hasn’t lost a lyrical step in his time away from the mic.
Continuing to use the album as somewhat of a therapy session to get a lot off of his chest and mind, Sage delves continuously deeper into both inner and outer demons. “Thank You” is so deeply personal and emotional it’s almost painful to listen to, but it’s also reflective and thought provoking. “Once Upon A Blood Moon,” an imaginative account of a relationship gone awry, is even more gut wrenching. And the first single “Vonnegut Busy” is desolate, topical and pissed off but also lyrically skilled and ingenious.
Moody and downbeat with lots of anger and frustration, yet still rousing and conceptual, Copper Gone is just open and honest enough for fans to really feel for Sage, yet guarded enough to contribute to a real sense of mystery. Some of the bleak beauty is Sage’s willingness to be both self-deprecating and critical of his surroundings. Sometimes, Sage sounds like he’s constantly teetering on the edge between just clawing by and ending it all, which grows a bit wearisome. But at others, he’s defiant, combative, fiery, energetic and even vulnerable. There’s a method to his madness: he wants to bring the listener face-to-face with grim stories of loneliness, grief, sarcasm and justifiable anger to force them to do something about their own life.
After four years away from Hip Hop, Sage Francis uses Copper Gone not merely as a reintroduction, but also to unabashedly embrace all of his faults. With a blatant honesty, he lays them bare for listeners to visualize his suffering. It’s as if he’s drowning, doesn’t want to be saved, and wants everyone to see him slowly recede underwater as a warning. And if that’s the case, the truth is that listeners should be thankful that Sage is willing to take them along on such a stirringly dark, emotional roller coaster of an album.