Rhode Island rapper Sage Francis sells out the Cobra Lounge
We exit the famous Chicago Cobra Lounge with heads full of blaze, marching around the block and under the train tracks to the Bottom Lounge on Lake Street, tucked in just east of Ogden. The bouncer gazed upon identifications in the usual intimidating doorman fashion, black-lighting the I.D.s and giving them a good onceover. "Got your tickets?" he asked. "It's a sold out show."
Thankfully, we had come prepared and they scanned our barcodes as we made our way into the live room. The bar was crowded as we began pushing our way through for a thimble of whiskey and coke at $5.50 a pop. The $4 PBR tallboys proved to be the better deal. We found ourselves immersed in the center of the crowd, approximately 15 rows back with a few cracks between shoulders granting us a view of the stage. We waited eagerly for the lights to dim in anticipation for one of backpack-indie rap's most celebrated artists to take the stage. His crowd seemed to know who he was on a more keen level than most artists' followers. The group standing in front of me (three gentlemen, one sporting a ZZ Top beard with a fitted baseball cap with the brim bent upwards like Steve Urkle) were placing bets with one another over what song he would open with.
Sage Francis is a rapper from Providence, Rhode Island under his own label that goes by the name of Strange Famous Records. With a degree from Brown University, Francis' lyrical content is baffling as he has impacted the lyrical hip-hop movement exponentially since the mid ‘90s. As he hashed out a few of his classics such as "Crack Pipes" and "Makeshift Patriot," the crowd responded with unabashed delight. He was on the stage alone, no DJ, as he spun his own records to his own voice without any of that ‘pre-recorded back-track' garbage that so many rappers have to resort to these days. His rhymes were on point and second nature like a trapeze artist going through the motions. It was a ‘raw' performance, no gimmicks, without any external theatrics or self-indulgent mumbo-jumbo. Francis delivered his lines with ease and honesty, breaking down issues from the hopelessly heartbroken to the immensely political. His diction was compacted with vivacious clarity that rests a dash of tranquility upon a young mind, the voice of someone who has already been there. Francis is a familiar face, bearded with peppered hair, captivating more than just the listener's ear drums.
He closed with a hip-hopified version of Lou Reed's "Take a Walk on the Wild Side" which stuck out as a personal favorite of mine. The sample was smooth and ran on for a long while as Francis and three of his Strange Famous representatives slung out a dizzy-spell of rhymes. As the beat cut out, Francis proceeded to say, "Let's get the biggest group hug this city's ever seen going on." He let himself down off the stage and gently pushed his way to the crowd's epicenter where he hugged fans and talked with whomever was willing, which was at least 75 percent of the audience.
Upon exiting the Bottom Lounge I felt fulfilled. I felt happy to know that quality hip-hop is still very much alive; it just backed itself into the corner so it could laugh at the mockery that is the mainstream. Francis is a glimmer of hope for this evocative and infectious art form that has so greatly affected generations X-Y. I would highly recommend this show to any hip-hop fan the next time he comes through Chicago, so if I were you, I'd keep my eyes peeled for anything Strange Famous.
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