If his rhymes were weapons, he'd be a 30mm chaingun, eviscerating the landscape with enough unrelenting wordplay to make the New York Times' crossword seem childishly quaint. Francis got his start slapping his salami on the counter (metaphorically), working the battle rhyme circuit, and beating down other MCs throughout his teens. Feeling constrained, he abandoned the "your mamas" for poetry slams, and excelled there too, but feeling restless again, moved on to rap, where he's become a leading man for the backpacking masses. From the beginning, Francis' aesthetic has been extremely personal -- but not in a Conor Oberst/confessional-songwriter style; instead, like an essayist, Francis' history becomes the prism through which he describes the world. Obviously this isn't different from N.W.A or 50 Cent rapping about the street, except instead of thuggin', Francis' work is social criticism, pointed at our culture and sometimes our politics. The new album, A Healthy Distrust, is even more political than previous releases (especially "Slow Down Gandhi," which assails the left wing's ineffectual opposition) without losing the personal nature of his polemics. -- Chris Parker
Sage Francis is scheduled to perform on Monday, October 31, at the Marquee Theatre in Tempe.