Essentially, Rhode Island denizens Non-Prophets are the classic MC/DJ hip-hop duo. This time the rapper is one Sage Francis. Francis, a veteran of enough Manhattan rhyming battles and championships to be the Big Citrus Fruit’s poet laureate. The DJ is Joe Beats, a man, like Mr. Whippy, fortunate enough to have his moniker reflect his trade. After one official solo record each, this is Non-Prophets first extended release.
Opening with a few brief lines from Lawrence Ferlinghetti‘s Loud Prayer it’s clear that the boy Beats is familiar with his Fifties namesakes. From the heavily percussive momentum of Any Port onwards, the album itself sounds faintly out of time. Though the tracks are as welcomingly synthetic as any hip-hop act armed with the requisite digital tools, there is a faithful, rootsy authenticity to Beats’ library of samples and Francis’ insistent rhyme-style. But as the man himself says ‘this is my house / If you don’t like/ Then get the f**k off my rooftop!’.
But for all the fluidity of Joe Beats’ stack o’tracks, it’s Francis’ unrelenting rhyme-style that will provide Hope with its stickiness. There’s more wordplay on this set than a deluxe DVD-set of Countdown, but one suspects that a live Francis is even more frantic than the deluge of verbiage indicated here. It’s unclear how to pinpoint whereabouts on the rapping radar Francis pinpoints himself, but maybe Damage offers the best clue – “I’m not left-wing /I’m not right-wing / I’m the middle finger!”.
Intimations of the physical improbability aside, Sage is keen to don his Mr. Sensitive spectacles when appropriate. The announcement intro to the Wu-Tang pulse of Xaul Zan’s Heart, declares that “Non-Prophet is another word for hug me, I’m lonely!”. Elsewhere, Francis himself declares “I’m not hard of women/I put the heart on women” and That Ain’t Right proclaims the legend “Life’s not a bitch/She’s just sick of being personified”. However, despite the chest-puffing chivalry, there’s just a jarring whiff of misogyny amongst the travails of Spaceman.
To the average modern B-Boy though, maybe the vagaries of political correctness are of low importance. More than any other of the Babel-onian progeny of Rhythm ‘n’ Blues, Hip-Hop thrives on kinetics, a forward momentum propelled as much by resolute beat-veneration as by the rapidity of a rapper’s delivery. In this, Hope fulfils the brief.
Such is the hand-in-glove accord of lyric and sample that Hope sounds as though it could have been conceived in one-take. New World Order contains atmospherics worthy of David Axelrod, while Tolerance Level’s sound clips of Spanish guitar extends the aural palette. The circular motion of both these standout tracks conjure a sense of dread that hip-hop often does best, though it steps back from the abyss-pondering of say, Death Row Records or the high-tension soundscapes of Company Flow‘s Mr. Len
Throughout there’s a self-mocking nature to the proud marginality of Francis’ stream-of-social-consciousness poetry, but still can’t resist the trad (but funny) MC-goading about counterfeit DJ’s in Damage, and the derogatory name-checking at Nelly (Mainstream 307) and Jay-Z (Damage, again). Thankfully this disdain means there’s little scope in future releases for the requisite Ashanti/Mariah Carey duets of major label delight, their gimlet eyes forever on the crossover tills.
Still if Sage Francis really is concerned about the competition, I reckon he should set-up mikes with New York’s Latino-House DJ, Onionz. Then they’d really stuff the opposition.