Of Rhode Island MC Paul "Sage" Francis' fourth solo album, Filter magazine wrote, "You can call it emo or you can call it hip-hop." (Cue the sound of squealing brakes.) Huh? Francis may have been a member of Midwest emo-rap group Atmosphere, but there is nothing emo about this album. Rather, the 16 tracks on Human the Death Dance embody the essence of amoebic hip-hop, driven by beats from a diverse slew of guests that includes Buck 65, Alias, Ant, and Reanimator, and starring Francis' tongue-twisting and thought-provoking lyrics, which always come off as wily and wizened, never whiny. Half of the album sees Francis playing political dissident again. Tracks like "Civil Disobedience" and "Waterline" address corporate corruption and the Katrina disaster with eloquent venom, administered alongside knee-cracking beats and winsome instrumentation that includes piano, horns and sauntering scratches. Other tracks delve into Francis' darker days, from being robbed in Amsterdam ("Clickety Clack") to battling addiction ("Going Back to Rehab"). But the album's highlight is easily "Got Up This Morning," where Francis spits some of the sickest similes of his career over woozy blues guitar and smoky guest vocals from Jolie Holland. Maybe one could call Francis' hip-hop hybrids "emo," but only if "emo" meant "hot poetry that pops."
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