A Healthy Distrust is another chapter in Epitaph’s budding hip-hop catalogue, and it’s no surprise why: Sage Francis has crossover potential. But it’s not just the punks who may take a liking to Francis’s ferocious political tirades and queasy confessionals; over ominous, driving beats, he raps about the state of the union and the state of his love life with equal passion and honesty, in the process coming off like an Eminem for the underground.
The record’s highlight, “Sea Lion,” is a duet with alt.country superstar Will Oldham. Here, Oldham’s obtuse warbling superbly complements Francis’s straightforward emotional honesty, inspiring visions of an indie Judgment Night soundtrack (in which Pearl Jam and Cypress Hill are respectively replaced by Stephen Malkmus and MF Doom). The result? Sage Francis’s increasingly widespread appeal comes not from cynical marketing calculations but from his fearlessness to combine his influences (whatever they may be) to create music that most directly expresses who he is.
And that’s why A Healthy Distrust succeeds. It is uncompromising, brutally honest (check “Agony in Her Body” for proof of that) and adroit at melding many genres together without losing sight of the fact it is first a hip-hop record. Sage Francis deserves respect because of his crossover potential, not in spite of it.