Sage Francis

Alternative hip-hop has developed into a de facto criticism of the form that spawned it, with artists like Sage Francis delivering the sort of complex, politically charged imagery that's strikingly rare in mainstream rap. Unfortunately, accessibility and entertainment values frequently take a back seat in much of their work, which tends to limit audiences to the previously committed. That'll probably be the case for Distrust, too, and it's a drag, because Francis's latest is his strongest album to date.

On "The Buzz Kill," the disc's first song, Francis takes on hip-hop's bling obsession using verbiage that's simultaneously funny and angry: "I'd wear Armani if they endorsed me/So people who are poor can rob me." Selections such as "Gunz Yo," about weapons addiction, and "Agony in Her Body," a self-lacerating exploration of sex and violence, are just as provocative -- and production by Reanimator, Dangermouse and others results in sounds that are often as compelling as the words.

Distrust isn't easy listening. But oftentimes, harder is better.


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