**KOREA GIG GUIDE HAS FREE TICKETS TO GIVE AWAY FOR SAGE FRANCIS’ DAEGU CONCERT. DETAILS ON HOW TO WIN THE TICKETS ARE AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS POST **
Independent rapper, spoken word artist, and entrepreneur Sage Francis is coming to South Korea for the first time this weekend to share his unique take on hip-hop at Daegu’s Jeng-iy Collective (December 19) and Busan’s Club Realize (December 20).
Often referred to as the “forefather of indie hip-hop” (alongside “The Emcee’s Emcee” and “The rapper your favorite rappers idolize”), he began entering rap contests at the age of 12, and in a bid to get his music out there, formed his own record label Strange Famous Records before releasing his debut album, “Personal Journeys,” in 2002. Since then, he has released five more albums, produced eight “Sick” mixtapes, collaborated with a huge roster of performers, toured constantly, all the while still developing and growing his label and its roster.
After a four-year hiatus, he released his latest album “Copper Gone” in June of this year to critical acclaim. Korea Gig Guide had a quick chat with him in-between his recent shows in Australia.
Could you introduce yourself to the people of South Korea?
Hey, I thought that was your job! Okay, well, my name is Sage Francis. I am an American hip-hop artist. I talk a lot of shit and I back it all the fuck up. I run my own record label, Strange Famous Records, and that’s pretty much the only kind of running I like to do.
You are often called a “rapper” and a “spoken word artist”, how do you distinguish the two? How do you feel about genres and labels in music from both a personal and industry perspective?
“Spoken word” is when material is performed with no specific rhythm or rhyme structure. There’s no music or beat to accompany the words. It’s more of a free-form vocal performance. Rap can also be performed without music, but it’s usually executed in 4/4 time with rhymes to connect each bar. I usually rap, and I think that’s always been my strength, but spoken word comes with its own strengths. It’s been important for me to jump between both, especially at live shows, if I think people are really listening.
You started writing and performing at a young age, when did you realize you wanted to do this for a living?
I had no idea I’d be able to do it for a living, but I knew that I always wanted to do it. When I was a kid I had fantasies about scoring a big record contract because, at the time, that’s how I thought all records were made. In college I discovered the punk scene and became aware of the DIY ethic, which was a huge revelation. That was a very important discovery because it would eventually shape a career that basically kicked off in 1996.
What was it about hip-hop that drew you in, and what artists inspired you growing up?
I was inspired by the sounds, the rhymes, the attitude, the language, and the energy. I loved everything about it. This was the mid-80s so I was inspired by everything I listened to. Run DMC, Fat Boys, Ice T, Too Short, Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Kool Moe Dee, Slick Rick, Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, and on and on. Everyone was dope in their own way.
You have earned two degrees; in what ways does your education affect your music, sound, and message?
I have a degree in communications and in journalism. School was not a focus of mine, nor were my studies. I was still trying to figure out who I was and what other people were like. It was important for me to be around different types of people at that time, and even more
important for me to get involved with college radio as well as social activist groups. It was such a busy, hectic, exciting time in my life and there’s no way I could attribute any of what I do to the things that happened in any classroom. The classroom made the least impact on me. It was important for me to pass though, so I made sure I got my degree. My passion and focus was all about the things outside of the stuffy classroom though.
You are in the middle of a very extensive tour, how does performing live compare to recording?
They are entirely different beasts. Each thing requires its own set of skills. Recording is an introverted and private experience for me. I don’t like anyone to be around. Performing is obviously more about public entertainment. It’s immediate. I like to do both and I’m glad I was able to marry the two, but they are definitely their own thing. There are a lot of songs I’ve recorded that I don’t ever want to perform live. And there are also a lot of songs that I have to change in order for them to be performed live. I like the control I get to have while recording. I like losing control when I perform.
Do you have any favorite places to perform?
California and Colorado shows are always great. Phoenix, AZ gets really rowdy. A lot of places in the UK get rowdy too. I think there was a mosh pit to one of my spoken word performances when I was there last month. Vancouver shows get wild. I’ve played about 90 shows this year so it’s kind of tough to remember specific cities. Everything just turns into one big blur. I wish I could shout out the East Coast, as that’s where I’m from, but the crowds there are usually very reserved. I still love playing in Providence and Boston though. What I really love is playing in remote areas. Small town shows too. They don’t pay the bills, but they make up for it in other ways. I love being able to travel to places like Alaska, Iceland, and New Zealand. And now I get to play South Korea, which I never thought would be possible. I’m very thankful for these opportunities the fans
and music community have afforded me.
What can you tell us about the formation and running of Strange Famous Records, and how it has progressed since it began?
I dubbed cassette tapes at first so I could have something to sell at shows. Whatever money I made went into making more tapes. And then it went into making CDs, which were actually CD-Rs that I burned at first. Once I made enough money from those sales I was able to pay for a manufacturer to make everything. I sold them at shows and over the
internet if people trusted me enough to send cash in the mail. Eventually I worked with CD distributors who were able to get my music into stores and I developed a more proper webstore. I learned more and more about running a record label as time went on and eventually I was able to put out other people’s music. By 2003 I started employing
other people to do things and by 2005 we grew into a bigger operation with more signed artists. We could have kept growing, and we did have a lot of signings in 2008, but I didn’t like the idea of the label getting big just for the sake of getting big. I think it’s important
for us to maintain quality control and only work with a select few artists.
How has technology helped you to get your music and message out there over the last 15 or so years?
Technology allowed me to reach out to people all over the world. Before the internet I was pretty much stuck to just Rhode Island, Boston, Connecticut, and NYC. But, as fate would have it, it was people from almost every other territory in the world who really “got” what I was doing. That’s when the support came for me to be able to quit my job serving ice cream.
How does your home of Providence, Rhode Island impact your music?
I’m not sure. Maybe it’s good for me to have so much privacy and solitude. Maybe it’s bad. Maybe it doesn’t have any impact. It doesn’t seem like my location affects me much when it comes to writing and recording music, but perhaps I’d have to live somewhere else for a long time to really notice something different.
What’s your opinion on the evolution of hip-hop, and where would you like to see it go?
Hip-hop has evolved in every imaginable way. I’d like for it to keep doing whatever it likes to do. The craft is not in any kind of danger. There will always be great stuff, there will always be awful stuff. I hope at some point the music journalists and websites get a bit more interested in finding what’s really good rather than just covering whatever publicists and major record labels throw at them. That would be helpful in several ways.
You delivered a new album earlier this year after a four-year gap, how was it to release “Copper Gone”?
It was invigorating. It re-energized me and, in some ways, gave me a brighter outlook on the future. I was in a dark place for far too long. Even if I never put out another album – which I will – I’d be more than content with releasing “Copper Gone” as my final stand. The process of releasing a project of this magnitude on your own label is more work than most people will ever understand, and we did it. We did it big. I’m incredibly proud of everyone who was involved with bringing this album to the public, and I’m glad I pushed myself to continue the tradition of proving my adversaries wrong.
What are your plans after this tour and for your career and label in the future?
I’m going to try and be as happy as possible while being as productive as possible. That’s always the goal, but I never quite know what it will entail. There’s a lot to do. I just want to get to it and do it at my own pace without upsetting people I care about.
What can those of us in South Korea expect from your upcoming live performances?
Expect surprises. Expect entertainment. Expect to be as impressed as you are confused. I’m an expert in all fields. This is what I live for at this point.
Francis’ live performances are mesmerizing, high energy, and unique. Soundfuse Magazine’s review from a show in Chicago this summer stated that he “doesn’t just own the stage while he performs — it looks like he’s about to snap the mic stand over his head and tear the stage to pieces.” You should not miss the chance to see this talented and focused performer on these shores.
Sage Francis performs at Jeng-iy Collective in Daegu on December 19. The show starts at 8 pm and Table People, PJQ, and Sean O’Gorman are also on the bill. Tickets are 25,000 won. For more information, check out the show’s Facebook event page here.
Sage Francis also performs at Club Realize in Busan on December 20. The show starts at 10 pm and Illap and Carlos Williams are also on the bill. Tickets are 25,000 won. For more information, check out the show’s Facebook event page here.
Want to win a pair of free tickets to see Sage Francis play at Jeng-iy Collective? Korea Gig Guide has a pair of tickets to give away for Friday’s concert courtesy of Digit. To qualify for the tickets, simply share this story on Facebook. Then email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know that you’ve posted the link to your Facebook wall, and we’ll add your name to the draw. The contest closes at 11:30 am on Friday morning (December 19) and we’ll notify the winner by noon that day. Good luck!