Born 1976 in Miami, the artist formerly known as Paul Francis was raised in the not-so-rough-and-tumble streets of
Providence, Rhode Island, which is hardly anyone’s idea of a haven for aspiring
Hip Hop heads. The future underground icon began rhyming at the age of eight
before ultimately winning the Superbowl Battle in Boston in
1999 and the Scribble Jam in Cincinnati in 2000 and 2001 (the
last under the name of his metal alter-ego, Xaul Zan), and got
his B.A. in Journalism from the University
of Rhode Island at Kingston
. After the demise of his first group, Art
Official Intelligence
, Francis
began working on solo material, and in 2004 became the first rap artist signed
to the traditionally punk-friendly Epitaph Records – which all
goes a long way towards saying that Sage Francis is not your
typical Hip Hop emcee.

Coming two years after his critically acclaimed Epitaph
debut, A Healthy Distrust, Human the Death Dance is being
billed as Francis’ most personal record to date, offering diehard fans a
glimpse inside the mind of one of progressive rap’s finest wordsmiths. Opening
with “Growing
,” a track offering amusing samples of some of Francis‘ earliest Hip Hop efforts, the
album starts in earnest with the Odd Nosdam-produced “Underground for Dummies,”
on which the white rapper rhymes: “Stalking, walking in my big black
boots/I’m a DIY artist with thick grass roots/I had a couple managers as a
youth/I was too young to know better/But I was like, ‘What does a manager
do?’/Now one of them, he saw dollar signs in my skin color/The other? He said
to keep it under cover.
” Set atop an old school beat with choir-like voice
accents, the track offers up a riveting and succinct career bio, catching
newcomers up on what they’ve missed.

Elsewhere, producer Buck 65 adds an infectious Delta blues
groove to “Got
Up This Morning
,” a haunting tale about a crossroads-style hook-up
between the protagonist and a sinful siren who may or may not be Mephistopheles, on which Francis throws in Charles Bukowski references and a sultry vocal hook. Odd pairing of
the year honors go to the string-laden dynamics of “Good Fashion” and the piano- and
harp-driven balladry ofWater Line,” both of which are
collaborations with critically acclaimed trumpeter/film composer Mark
, whose eerie, emotional melodies provide perfect counterpoints
for some of the most poignant and revealing lyrics of the emcee’s career.

Yet another rising underground producer, Alias, drops in on
Keep Moving,”
a uniquely creative track featuring a mandolin riff over jeep-thumping beats.
But despite the presence of multiple chefs in this mature musical pot, the
16-track effort flows seamlessly from start to finish and stands out as Sage
‘ most accessible album to date. It’s not exactly a bid at
mainstream acceptance–the themes of emotional angst and dark humor are a bit
too deep for the Hot 97s of the world–but it is evidence that the emcee isn’t
afraid of putting himself out there in search of a connection with his