Sage Francis is back for his third album, and this is probably the most difficult of his works to get into. This veteran underground rapper has matured greatly with time, and this album is probably the most complex thing he has produced yet. Human the Death Dance is alienating compared to his sophomore work, A Healthy Distrust, which is perhaps his most enjoyable. He has toned down the humour and the politics to create something that is a lot more introspectively personal than that previous endeavour.
This new album is very aware of the criticism that has been directed at the artist who has been described as the emo of the rap world. The comparison has never seemed apt, as Francis tends to draw on humour and anger as much he does on the sorrow of emo. The comparison is not completely without merit, though, as some of the tracks on this album come across as an overly defensive whine directed at critics who attempt to pigeonhole Francis as ‘the emo rapper’ or ‘the white rapper.’ Such rhymes tend to draw attention to these comparisons and invite the listener to test the validity of the claims, leading this reviewer to wonder if he might have done a better job avoiding these labels by simply ignoring them altogether. However, it is hard to claim that Human the Death Dance lacks the quality of his previous works, as it is merely the content Francis delivers that has changed. While this album certainly gives a more in-depth look into the soul of the rapper, it is harder to identify with as a listener.
Despite the misgivings I have about this album, it does have a couple stellar tracks to discover on it, in particular “Got Up This Morning,” a collaboration with Buck 65 and Jolie Holland. Francis has drawn on a number of friends to make beats on this record, including the aforementioned Canadian, Alias, Sixtoo, and Reanimator, which at least keeps the beats interesting, if not the rhymes.