To be completely honest, I was a little disappointed in my first listen of Copper Gone, the newest album from Sage Francis. Coming off a four-year hiatus, Copper Gone hits the ground running with “Pressure Cooker.” It starts off quiet, asking, “Where have you been? Where have you been!?” Sage replies, “I’ve been busy!” and the beat explodes through the speakers. It’s a high-energy start that still gets me pumped after listening 40+ times. But instead of keeping up that high energy, Uncle Sage chooses to immediately quiet things down for “Grace,” the source of my initial disappointment. “Pressure Cooker” set me up for a certain tempo and style, a hard, fast beat with silly lyrics and a short hook. When “Grace” came on, though, I just flat our didn’t expect the slow, cryptic opening; the contrast was unbearable. But after listening a few more times, I feel like Sage had no other choice than to throw us into that, to set us up for something we couldn’t get again anywhere else on the album – it was a sucker punch and a lie. It’s jarring and if you’re not ready, it can kill your expectations.
I won’t pretend to know enough about Sage Francis and SFR in terms of who’s got beef and who doesn’t, but “ID Thieves” feels purposely directed, considering the biting final line (almost a whisper): “Independent? Fuck you.” This track also starts the climb toward levels closer to “Pressure Cooker,” and we see a sharp upward turn with one of my favorite tracks from the album, “Cheat Code.” Sage is at his wittiest here, offering a complete and total deconstruction of his favorite subject, the absurdity of what hip hop has become. His lyrics stack like lines of poetry using nothing but words and definitions found on Urban Dictionary (“Little homie said YOLO!/No props…This ain’t a humble brag”). Put simply, if you’re unfamiliar with Sage Francis and what he’s about, start here because “Cheat Code” doesn’t disappoint.
I won’t spend time breaking down every track, but I will say my initial disappointment was completely unfounded. This is Sage Francis at his absolute best. His lyrics are as critical and fluid as they’ve ever been (better in most cases) and the album comes together perfectly, compelling you to hit Repeat. It’s smooth, fluid, and angry – everything we’ve come to know and love from the artists under the Strange Famous label. The songs come together beautifully, forming a great balance of lows and highs, which gives the album a varied and unique feel. Thematically, this is much more than just a good rap album, though. There’s a great mix of comedy, drama, satire, and angst seeping from nearly every second of every song. It’s scary good and does much more than just make you bob your head and sing along; it makes you feel something. And that’s where Copper Gone’s power comes from: Sage Francis can infect you and jerk you around, making you feel the way he wants you to feel, hate what he wants you to hate, and question things some people don’t want you to question. Not only is it the mark of great music, it’s a testament to Sage’s strength as a writer and storyteller. For example, “Vonnegut Busy” explores the myth of spontaneous counter-culture, a rejection of 20th Century rebels and folk heroes like Vonnegut and Cobain who attained the level they did through amazing marketing, reminding us that rebels and folk heroes don’t just appear, they’re created through calculated moves by PR dream teams. Whether we like it or not.
Which brings me to my final point and conclusion: this is the essence of Copper Gone. To raise questions in the listener. Not only to question the big headlines right now (gun control, campaign finance reform, poverty, etc.) but to look at both sides and decide for yourself which is more fucked up. Because if there’s one thing Sage Francis’s latest album has reminded me, it’s that we have a long way to go before everything is alright. If it happens at all, that is.