Sage Francis is a rapper. He happens to be one of my favourite rappers. He’s also widely considered to be one of the greatest lyricists of our generation. Sage’s gift for wordplay and creating vivid narratives has led to him be nicknamed the ‘forefather of indie-hop’. In the early 2000s, Sage Francis won respect and recognition by winning a series of highly coveted titles on the emcee battle circuit. He would go on to launch his own record label, Strange Famous Records, which now has a packed roster of incredible artists. Sage Francis’ first studio album, Personal Journals, was a daring release that saw him reaching for his poetic chops, rather than his usual rap style. This is not unusual for Sage, who is also known for his spoken word performance – which most recently went down a storm at Edinburgh festival, alongside long-time ‘beard brother’ (and friend of The Reading Lists), B.Dolan. Sage Francis released his 6th studio album, Copper Gone in 2014, which ranked in the iTunes top 5 for hip-hop in the US as well as in the UK. I have been listening to Sage’s music now for over a decade, and I have also discovered many more artists by exploring his awesome label. So to talk books with the great man was a true honour. I’m incredibly excited to be able to present to you, my interview with Sage Francis…
When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?
There are very few scenarios when someone asks me what I do for a living. In fact, it’s pretty much only something I get asked by border agents and my bank. My answer always varies. Sometimes I’m a writer, sometimes I own a music site, sometimes I run a record label, sometimes I’m a musician, and sometimes, when I’m feeling conversational or confrontational, I’m a rapper.
I typically only read when I’m traveling, but I’m home working on new songs now so I’m not reading anything at the moment. I finished two books on my last trip, which is very rare considering how slow of a reader I am. Shit, I think I even threw one book away in the middle of reading it. I’ve only done that twice in my life. Not proud. Not ashamed though.
When you think about your childhood, what book comes to mind?
Off the top of my head; Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and Superfudge by Judy Blume, The White Mountains by John Christopher, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, and Communion by Whitley Strieber. Almost all of those books were school assignments. The last one was one I picked for myself in 6th grade because I was fascinated by things like aliens, the supernatural, Weekly World News, and all things magic.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
A rapper, ninja, journalist, doctor, and/or lawyer.
What do you think your school aged self would think of the present day you?
I think he would be ridiculously confused by what I do, why I do it, and how I do it, but overall he’d probably think it’s cool that people know my music. Honestly though, if anyone told the kid version of me what my life is like right now, he wouldn’t believe it. There’s no way.
Does your reading have routine? Is there a particular time or place that you like to read?
I typically read on planes, buses, and trains when I’m traveling. I read a lot when I’m traveling abroad since I don’t have easy access to wifi. When I’m home, I read when in bed sometimes, but the main place I read is in diners or restaurants if I really want to treat myself.
Which book has had the biggest impact on your career so far?
I don’t believe I can attribute any book to having an impact on my career. Not to undermine the importance of books, but they just didn’t ever play much of a role in what I do for a living.
Do you have any books that you strongly associate with someone important in your life?
Not really, no. That feels like a shitty answer. But, no, I don’t attribute any books to an important person in my life. Books were never a big part of my life until I discovered them on my own.
Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction?
I started off mostly enjoying non-fiction, I read a lot of biographies and autobiographies. I ultimately discovered that fiction is allowed to be more truthful than non-fiction. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien has some good quotes about how that all works.
Do you think reading is important?
I do. And I think being able to enjoy books is a gift. It’s something I’m grateful to have discovered, but it wasn’t without years of being turned off books by the school system. Being forced to read books in an allotted amount of time and interpret them in a fashion that was predetermined by a school system really annoyed me.
I’m a slow reader, and I can’t say I was totally enamoured by any of the books I’ve read in the last 6 months, but the one that stuck with me the most is The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut. I found myself in an unintentional sci-fi kick at the time, so I was also reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide by Douglas Adams. As far as sci-fi goes, I prefered Vonnegut’s book more.
Do you prefer real books or digital books?
I’ve never completed a digital book. I’ve tried a couple times, but I definitely prefer physical books. I like holding them, not worrying about rain, and gifting them afterwards if I haven’t made too many markings.
Name a book that you feel every human should have to read by law.
Well, if it’s mandated by law, I’d hope it would be a book about the Constitution, Bill of Rights, local bylaws, stuff like that. Heh. If there’s anything they force down in school before you enter adult life, maybe it should be a book like that. That’s never done though. Only The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is mandatory. So…hell, I don’t know. If this is a worldwide mandate and not a local law concern, I guess I’d suggest The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.
I’ve been thinking about this answer for a few minutes and I can’t come up with one. I don’t know if a book has had a big impact on my life. Perhaps It by Stephen King had a big impact on my life because it made me realize there’s a reward in committing to a long fucking book. Haha. Also, a fan threw Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates by Tom Robbins at me on stage while I was performing in Santa Ana, CA. That book impacted my life because it made me purchase his entire catalog, including extra copies of each book so I could gift them to others.
Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?
Yes, A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. I feel like I personally know every character in that book, and no book has literally made me laugh out loud every other page. I’m doing my best to forget everything about that book so I can go back and read it again.
What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?
I have a shelf full of books that I hope to make a dent in, but there’s no particular subject matter I plan on tackling. The shelf is full of classics and/or books that were gifted to me.
If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?
Remember, This is Supposed to be Fun.