It’s been a while since he last graced Icelanders with his presence (nine years to be exact)—now Sage Francis is finally returning to dazzle us with his veritable rhyming skills and some of the best indie hip hop money can buy (you can also cop it off the internet, but stealing from independent artists is especially bad form).
His previous two shows are by now the stuff of legend. Not only did he perform energetic and inspiring shows that were all packed with hip hop lovers, he also guested on some Icelandic hip hop records and cavorted in local radio stations. Much has changed since 2002, so we dropped him a line to check if he’s still all exciting and vigilant.
How are you Sage Francis? What have you been up to since 2002?
Parts of 2002 seem like yesterday and other parts seem like a lifetime ago. Mostly it’s been a blur of albums, mixtapes, tours, girlfriends, enemies, cats, internets, funerals and airports.
You might not know it, but your previous visit(s) coincided with a real growth spurt in Icelandic hip hop. Around that time the Icelandic hip hop scene burst forth to mainstream popularity and the first ‘Icelandic language hip hop’ albums were released. You are returning at a time where a sort of Icelandic hip hop resurgence seems to be in the making; however the style and times have changed. Hip hop is now more mainstream than ever, and its subject matters and style seem to reflect that. Have you any thoughts on this?
Hip hop has been the most popular and mainstream genre for a long time now, so I guess it all makes sense. Of course, what pop culture considers hip hop has nothing to do with what I consider hip hop. As much shit as I talk, I bite my tongue twice as much. I don’t want to believe that Icelandic hip hop is as shallow and trendy as what I hear on the radio, but I’m sure there are people who are speaking their truth in an original way, even if it doesn’t get promotion or coverage.
“DARRI DID SOME INTERESTING STUFF”
‘Native language’ rap: do you enjoy it? Does it make sense to you, even if you don’t understand the lyrics? Should rappers strive to rap in their native language? Or can ‘hip hop’ be enjoyed regardless of ‘understanding its lyrical content’? Have you heard and/or enjoyed Icelandic hip hop?
I have heard Icelandic hip hop. In fact, there’s a guy named Darri who used to post on my messageboard who has done some interesting stuff. And when I played in Iceland I was able to see some incredibly passionate performances from people who rapped in Icelandic. That was really entertaining. Should rappers strive to rap in their native language? Of course. But if you can speak a language that has a broader outreach I think you should do that too. I suppose it all depends on who you’re trying to reach. And it also depends on how comfortable you are with the language (if it’s not your native language.) If I could speak another language fluently I guarantee that I would have songs in that language.
I’m incredibly jealous of people who can speak more than one language. In high school I studied French for two years, and then I studied Spanish in college. Neither of those languages took. And I still can’t play a musical instrument. Or read a map.
HIP HOP IS THE STATUS QUO
When did hip hop take over from ‘rock and roll’ as the dominant style in ‘popular music’, and does it matter that it did?
I put a quote in the liner notes of one of my albums or singles that perfectly sums up my thoughts about this. I can’t find it now and I’m too lazy to dig through my record room at the moment. However, the gist of the quote is that a style of music is officially co-opted and “dead” when you step into a supermarket and hear it over their speaker system. When I was growing up, that’s what rock-and-roll was and I rejected it 100%. Rock-and-roll was the status quo and it bugged the shit out of me.
That’s what hip hop is now. Hip hop has been the status quo for at least eighteen years. What’s funny is the quote that I used in the liner notes was about rock-and-roll but I swapped it with hip hop. It fit perfectly. As for how much it “matters”, I suppose it just bugs me that I’m involved with a genre that is generally defined by subject matter I despise.
Who are your current favourites in hip hop? A lot of folks like Kanye’s last record—did you? Why/why not?
I don’t care for Kanye. This is obviously not a popular opinion, but I’ve never cared for Kanye. Ever. I am inspired by good music, good lyrics, and/or good humour. Other than that, I just like listening to classical music and ambient tones. My current favourites in hip hop are all Strange Famous Records related. I guess I gravitate toward those who inspire me and vice versa.
POETRY AND CROTCH EXPLOSIONS
During your visit to Iceland you guested on some tracks by local artists. Will you be making yourself available in a similar way this time around?
Probably not. The last time I played Iceland I was invited by a rapper who booked studio time for me so we could do some songs together. That’s the first and last time I ever did something like that. Not that it was a bad experience. It actually resulted in at least one great song. But these days I only do shows that are booked by promoters who don’t rap.
How should the uninitiated prepare for your show? Any key tracks you care to mention?
I will be performing songs that span my whole catalogue so I’m not really sure what people should prepare for. Other than beautiful poetry and crotch explosions.
Any plans for your visit to Iceland? Things to see/do/hear?
I mainly accepted this show so that I could share my travels and experiences with my girlfriend. She’s never been to Iceland and I’m looking forward to seeing the look on her face when she sees how long some of your words are. We’ll be visiting as many interesting and beautiful areas we can while we’re there. I’m also going to try and sneak in a pingpong game.