Non Prophetby Samora Chapman / 31.08.2010
I met one of my heroes the other day. His name is Sage Francis, a slam poet and emcee hailing from Rhode Island, USA. He is the anti-thesis of the 50 Cent candy rapper generation and is one of the few people making hip-hop today that is truly taking the music to new frontiers as well as remaining true to the old school heroes like Public Enemy and KRS One. He has gathered a worldwide cult following as is often the case with slightly obscure, so called ‘underground artists’.
There comes a time when you meet your leader, your hero, your messiah. For some it is accompanied by angel-song or hell-fire, for others it happens in a dark basement in London, on a Tuesday night in August. In this case my hero came in the form of a slightly overweight and nervous old man, wearing a wig and a pair of black-rimmed spectacles. His white skin was glistening like a reptile in a rain forest.
Much to my disappointment, the messiah would not meet my gaze. I suppose he felt somewhat naked because of the way all the strangers in the room stared hungrily at him. He was sitting at a small metal table with his CDs and vinyl laid out like he was working at a garage sale. But how could this be? Sage Francis seemed so fucking normal. In fact he seemed less then normal. He looked like a man crawling in his own skin.
I watched as Sage sold a CD to an excited girl and her boyfriend. He looked like a middle-aged man going about his day job in a dutiful and awkward manner. He wiped the sweat off his forehead and dug in his pockets for change. He didn’t have a cash box and was struggling with the foreign currency. He dug in his pockets and produced a stick of chewing gum, some American dollars and a black marker pen. He didn’t have the right change, so he looked around and caught my stare. ‘Hey man, have you got two tens?’
So I met my hero, and he asked me for change. I stood flabbergasted for a few moments then wrestled my wallet out of my pocket. I had two tens, the ice was broken. We chatted a bit and then fell into a terribly awkward silence like complete strangers, which we were of course. The music was too loud and small talk seemed pointless. So I bought his CD because I didn’t know what else to do with myself. He signed it dutifully. And that was that.
The show itself was epic. Once on stage the mediocre man transformed into a rap god. He performed the song ‘Narcissist’ which drove the true fans into a tingling frenzy because it’s one of those obscure tracks that only the real cult followers would know. He then hung himself with the microphone chord, shook off his wig and spectacles and broke into full flight. He became wild-eyed and aggressive as he performed like a man possessed; a ringleader in a room full of enslaved devotees.
The crowd was mostly comprised of young men swooning. One guy with long greasy hair was rapping along to every word with his eyes shut and his arms outstretched, reaching skyward in despair or adulation. Occasionally, Sage got tangled up in the groping arms of his fans like something out of a zombie film and he’d be forced to bash the delirious devil worshippers back into the pit.
So who is Sage Francis? The self-loathing salesman, or the swaggering gangster rapper? The man I met in the back of the club could have been nothing more than a character conjured by the self-proclaimed ‘non-prophet’. I reckon old Moses had a point when he warned the masses; ‘Do not worship false idols’.
* Images © Samora Chapman.