Well known to the Anticon kids, coffee shop chicks and spoken word poetry buffs, Sage Francis is often looked at as a poster child for soft “emo” rap. The funny thing is, when the Rhode Island native isn’t winning poetry slams, he is serving hardcore emcees while winning freestyle battles. The former Scribble Jam & Battle Bowl champ is just too talented and versatile to be pigeon holed. Hope proves that more than ever.

His “Sick of…” series and Personal Journals LP are more rooted in his spoken word talents and the beats leaned to his Anticon fan base. As one half of the Non Prophets with Joe Beats, this is much more along the lines of “traditional” hip-hop. Flashing his aforementioned versatility throughout, Sage goes from social critic (New World Order) to battle emcee (FRESH) to isolated sociopath (Damage). The common factor is Joe Beats‘ consistent offering of excellent production. Well, that and Sage maintaining his tone of a condescending asshole. Xual Zan’s Heart is a classic moment that puts all other misogynistic songs to shame with brilliant quips like “I wanna be the life of your search party” and “I am womanizer, hear me whore.

Verse after verse, Sage will leave your head spinning trying to keep up with his witty bars. That Ain’t Right is likely the finest example, particularly this… “I blame my hate mail on typographical errors/correct the misspellings and then send out thank you notes for the love letters/except rejection when I get a return to sender/reject acceptance when the girls got an agenda/check it, I’ve entered this brave new world of true cowards/ talkin bout ‘no one goes to shows no more, they’re too crowded/so they stay home and burn shit/then say ‘I downloading your life off the net, totally worth it’/its 2000 and whatever time to stop acting like assholes/it ain’t about backpackers or cash flows, fashionable afros, salon styled dreads, or frat clothes/it ain’t about this fucking loud mouth yelling ‘battle!’/see the African medallions didn’t sell platinum albums and that’s part of the reason you think hip-hop died/it was here before you were/it will be here in the future/life’s not a bitch, she’s just sick of being personified.”

I really don’t have the space to give this album it’s due, Sage blows your mind at every corner with endless quotables and Joe Beats more than holds his own (see Any Port, The Cure, Mainstream 307 and Tolerance Level for his best work). As anyone who heard Drop Bass a few years back might expect, Hope is an excellent album. It is part of an ever growing grouping of dope albums that come the end of the year, will be very hard to differentiate from when choosing the “best of” lists. I’ll worry about that when 2003 comes to close, for now I’ll just hope for more Non Prophets in 2004.