Buck 65, Alias
Chicago, IL • July 6th
Much like the beginning moments of Sage Francis’s second Epitaph release Human the Death Dance (2007), there lurked in the distance a hint that something overwhelming was going to happen, something I wouldn’t fully understand until the tsunami passed through me three hours later.
For the last several years Francis has developed an underground following via winning the 2000 Scribble Jam battle rap competition, appearing with the Wu Tang Clan in 2004 and collaborating with Slug and Ant of Minneapolis collective Atmosphere. Never slowing down, Sage Francis continued to sharpen his KRS-One influenced emcee machinegun cadence and merge it with his beat-poet-meets boom-bap street party groove.
I chatted briefly with a bushy-haired fan before the Sage set and asked if he had seen Sage live and he said, “Oh, yeah! Have you?” I said, “No, but if what I heard on his record would be even remotely close to the live show–” He cut in and said, “I’ve seen him three times and, oh man, is he awesome!”
The kid was right!
Opener Alias turned into the DJ and dropped the beat and the hip-hop human DIY dynamo rocketed from the wings and into the first song, unleashing the Molotov anthem “Underground For Dummies.” This song tethered the night–and ignited the packed crowd–around the rallying chorus of “Pop pop goes the weasel, the weasel/ Drop drop goes the easel, the easel/ This is hip hop for the people, the people/ So stop calling it emo, whaaaaa!”
Before the first song was halfway done I fought to scribble in my notepad, then gave up scribbling and became a part of the show as skilled craftsman Sage melded with the fans; his words the fodder, the fire the performance, the fans’ minds his cerebral workbench as he reveals his trials and tribulations not to whine but to challenge and engage the status quo from relationships to religion to politics.
And that chorus from earlier, that “Pop pop goes the weasel, the weasel?” I haven’t been able to get it out of my head for days. It’s a chorus– like most of Sage’s songs–that drips with layers of subtext and possesses the power to command the pumping of one thousand arms. It’s clear that Sage understands himself and his audience and how to work a crowd. The umbilical bond was amazing to watch (and be engulfed in) and it’s also where he connects with his audience like a homerun slugger to a meaty fastball. You could easily agree with Francis when he raps in “Underground For Dummies” that “his white skin flashed dollar signs in the eyes of managers.” Thought the key to his success might start with the color of his skin, as you experience Francis’s jaw-to-the-floor emcee chops, the issue of race goes mute after about thirty seconds.
From the spoken-word supporting cast to the openers, Buck 65 and Alias, this show was something that I will have a hard time not comparing other hip hop shows to. Many will agree that live hip hop might have more inherent flaws than rock n’ roll but Francis delivered a show laced with potent creative electricity that chugged along, slowing at all the right moments but never losing energy or wasting words.