Sage Francis Literally Smacks the Words Out of His Head

On June 20, Sage Francis graces Central Phoenix with his uniquely eloquent version of hip-hop. The Providence, Rhode Island, native has a delivery and style that is not for everyone, mind you, but it is certainly compelling enough to make any fan of a cleverly turned phrase sit up and take notice. Francis, who also runs Strange Famous Records, spent a few minutes with Up On The Sun to chat about life, his music, and hitting himself. The rapper is scheduled to play the Crescent Ballroom on Friday, June 20.

Up on the Sun: So Sage, we're sitting at the counter of a coffee shop making small talk. We finish talking about the weather and I ask you what you do for a living. What do you tell me?

Sage Francis: This discussion obviously happens with almost every new person that I meet. My answer all depends on the vibe I'm getting from the person, but what I typically say to keep the conversation as short and simple as possible is "I run a music website." After years of experimenting with answers, I've found that this totally truthful yet ambiguous response is the one that results in the least amount of confusion.

When did you decide you wanted to do music? Was there any monumental occurrence that pushed you down the path?

I've always wanted to do music. Even before I heard any hip-hop, I was singing lyrics into a tape recorder. Just noodling around with melody and incoherent lyrics. I actually sneaked one of those recordings on "The Baby Stays" from my last album. Anyway, I discovered hip-hop at the age of 8 and began writing and recording rap lyrics almost immediately. Even though I always wanted to do music, the first time I realized I'd be able to do it without working another job was in late 1999. I was performing enough shows to pay for my rent and life essentials at that point, so I quit my job at Ben & Jerry's, and I haven't worked for another person ever since.

You've been able to do some very cool things -- poetry, music, and as a label owner. What advice do you have for someone who would like to follow in your footsteps? Phoenix has a pretty cool scene for underground rap/hip-hop/forward thinkers. I'm sure they would love to hear any wisdom.

If you want to follow in my footsteps, don't. I didn't follow anyone else's footsteps, and I'd hate for someone else to follow my own. If you want to be an artist, just be an artist. If you want to live off of your art, then be an artist and have some business sense. Do your best to be ethical. Only work with the people you enjoy and trust. Good luck.

I am curious to know about Copper Gone,[Francis' new album, which dropped June 3]

Long story short, it is the answer to life.

What do you do when the words don't seem to want to come out?

In a literal sense, if I'm performing and I'm having a hard time getting the words out of my mouth, I snap my fingers and/or punch myself in the head. I start with snapping my fingers, and I don't think anyone has noticed that before. They definitely notice the punch to the head though.

Who and/or what inspires you to make music?

Early on I was inspired by hip-hop in general. The sound of it, the rhymes, the delivery, the content, the look, everything. It was my main inspiration for the early part of my life. Every group was inspiring to me in one form or another. Since my 20s, I've mainly been inspired by life and art in general. My interactions with people and the world ... I try to derive as much inspiration outside of hip-hop as possible. If nothing else, that's my contribution to the craft I've derived so much from early on.

Sage Francis is scheduled to play the Crescent Ballroom on Friday, June 20.

Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.

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Tom Reardon has written for Phoenix New Times since 2013. He's been in several notable bands over the last 25 years including Hillbilly Devilspeak, North Side Kings, and the Father Figures.
Contact: Tom Reardon