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Non-Prophets - Hope

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Artist: Non-Prophets

Album: Hope

Label: Lex

Review date: Mar. 24, 2004

What made Sage Francis's Personal Journals such a rewarding album was not its breadth of talented guest producers (although that did help), but Francis' startling ability to do irreverent and inappropriate things with words, to violate colloquialisms and turn phrases ways they were never meant to bend. Likewise, the Non-Prophets' Hope isn’t about the production by Joe Beats (although it is consistently solid and often evocative); Francis is once again up to his old poetic mischief.

To love or hate Hope is to love or hate its lyrics. "I'm in a personal journal entry level position to get paid / Time off of work and paper chase the dragon breath spray / Minty fresh mouth guard against the death ray / Charles in charge credit cards are dealt—let's play!" Francis’s vocals ride on linguistic fluidity to a much greater extent than on Journals, because whereas his wordplay on that album was reined in by its underlying autobiographical structure, the songs here are as varied as they might be on any other Anticon hip hop record. To hear so many sociocultural phenomena cited and toyed with in such brevity can be dizzying, but you come to realize that the scatterbrained parts are intentional. They're not supposed to be political. It's called wordplay, not wordwork.

"When a boy writes off the world it's done with sloppy misspelled words; if / A girl writes off the world it's done in cursive." Most of the time it turns out he's still got something to say, not just a perplexingly inventive way to say it. "The Cure" and "Xaul Zan's Heart" are songs about the whole love/sex thing, respectively sensitive and brash, but others depart from that familiar quasi-emo territory with topics of their own. You couldn't quite call them political agendas, but that's probably for the best. "Mainstream 307" is about the deterioration of commercial rap; "Spaceman" is an ambivalent rant against technology; "Disasters" is about finding other people's small children annoying. If these prove anything, it's that Francis can find compelling commentary in tiresome subject matter.

"You ain't enough of an MC to be Jerobi's hype man." There are the battle raps too, of course, those endlessly renewable sources of pithy one-liners, and Francis swings at them with predictable zest. Like any self-respecting MC, he draws his disses from the fakery of wack rappers ("I don't strike a pose / I strike a poser"), but he also weaves in charming plays on the hip hop of yore ("Hey, Phife / Gravity don't float"), as though countering the white rapper stigma with a reverent dose of history. "Das EFX rocked that band-aid 10 years before Nelly did," he reminds us sternly.

"When my time comes, it better wear a studded condom." Sometimes the one-liners are so clever you could cringe. (In this case, the inevitable grimace is anticipated, and the line is followed by a faint "boooo!" on the record.) And sometimes the persona Francis puts forth makes you hesitate to like his music, because he doesn't sound like the same vulnerable orphan you learned to love on Journals. To draw a not entirely fair parallel between Hope and Atmosphere's Seven's Travels, there's a hint of unpalatable excess in Francis's candor, as though he feels the need to prove that he can be vulgar or shocking or creepy. Maybe he's trying to push the envelope. Maybe he's just being human. In any case, he redeems himself by taking Slug's melodrama and making it hilarious ("I'm not hard on women, I put my hard-on on women!").

"When the shit hits the fan, I'ma blame G.G. Allin." Really, what's not to love?

By Daniel Levin Becker

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