This or That? Sage The Gemini vs. Sage Francis
Sage the Gemini and Sage Francis couldn’t be more different. One is a Bay Area, hyphy-influenced rap star who topped the charts with the help of the social media app Vine. Sage Francis is a vegetarian, “underground” rapper who probably only knows the vines his veggies grow on.
They come from two different eras: Francis, from one where “underground” rappers wore their badges of honor proudly and shared loosies with Slug and Aesop Rock, and Gemini, from a new age of kinship between rap and radio in the aftermath of Lil’ Wayne’s cataclysmic takeover between 2005 and 2009. Fans of the former luxuriated in the largely unknown profiles of their favorite artists while spitting on "The Evil Mainstream’s" lowest common denominator aspirations. Fans of the latter might have no idea who Sage Francis is, and one spoken word verse from him would surely turn them off forever.
In the early 2000s, independent rap was at its peak as labels like Rhymesayers and Stones Throw became popular amongst a large swath of hip-hop fans. This popularity wasn’t indicated by record sales or radio spins, but the spreading fertility and critical acclaim of the scene itself. ‘God Loves Ugly’ dropped in 2002, ‘Bazooka Tooth’ in 2003, and ‘Madvillainy’ in 2004, the last of which representing what many might consider the peak of the vibrant underground sphere. Brother Ali, Blueprint, Immortal Technique, Jedi Mind Tricks, RJD2, Cage, Murs, Jean Grae, Copywrite – the list goes on and on. They represented, in some way, a triumph of lyrics over production, directly preceding the Ringtone Rap era that reverse engineered that ideology in favor of catchy hooks and melody.
Around the same time, Pitchfork began to climb the ranks of respected online publications, largely because of their keen eye towards indie scenes like the one described above. The same year that they gave ‘Madvillainy’ a 9.2, they gave ‘College Dropout’ an 8.4 with this important directive for listeners: “Analyze the fast-disappearing line between mainstream and underground hip-hop, as personified by ‘College Dropout’s guest appearances, and West’s personal rap style.”
Kanye was indeed the harbinger for the dissolve of that line – “the first n—ga with a Benz and a backpack.” You wouldn’t have expected it back then, but today Pitchfork gives Chief Keef and Migos the same scores that rap purists once thought were only reserved for the underground elite. The horror …
The drastic swing in opinion embodies the change in rap’s contemporary narrative, at least amongst the press and audience at large. Pop and rap are one in the same (who would have expected a Three 6 Mafia member to be on a No. 1 hit song with a white lady known mostly for her breasts?), both on the charts and within the soundwaves. Artists like Future and Drake, who utilize “street” images while pushing a pop sound, have paved the way for rappers like Sage the Gemini to have platinum singles. Those that employ a sing-song technique (like Chief Keef and Wiz Khalifa, as of late) are doing better in the eyes of the rap public than ever before.
Perhaps folks got tired of the overly rigorous lyrics of the “underground” era, or the expectation to hate everything that's played on the radio. Maybe people realized that there’s more to rap than what the chosen words mean. To argue whether the change is “good” or “bad” for hip-hop isn't of much import - some will like it, others won't.
Sage the Gemini’s lyrics aren’t dense or deep, but they work in the context of the music’s larger goal: to be fun. ‘Red Nose’ and ‘Gas Pedal’ are the hits, but try listening to ‘Go Somewhere’ without getting caught up in it’s infectiousness. Everything about his debut album ‘Remember Me’ sounds primed for a party, but if you come expecting something from Rawkus, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.
One of the most discomforting (yet rewarding) experiences in life is to suddenly question your own beliefs and expectations, so if you're a card-carrying purist, open yourself up to the possibility of everything you’ve ever known to be true being false. Then you can flip back and forth between Sage Francis and Sage the Gemini with ease.