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Sage Francis 

Human the Death Dance (Epitaph)

Sage Francis is a champion battle rapper, but the dude makes shitty CDs. Maybe that's because battling -- which requires gimmicky quips, passionately spun -- is a different skill set. Imagine hearing this lyric, from the track "Good Fashion," at a rap battle: "Clowns are playing Russian roulette with paint guns/They run in place and call it the human race." Hell, you would stand up and cheer.

Problem is, on wax -- where listeners have time to really tear apart the words -- Francis' lyrics lack depth. This is why Human the Death Dance, Francis' second disc for Epitaph, resembles a hoochie mama who looks like a 10 from afar, but up close is clearly a butterface. Almost every line sounds profound before you've processed it: "I've seen a wealthy man melt into the snow and blow his credit on a decongestant," and "Toe tags get caught in my teeth 'cause my foot is in my mouth." So . . . he's dead?

But songs like "Got Up This Morning" and "Hell of a Year" could be fun if Francis' whiny voice didn't dominate the mix. The guy should take a lesson from Brother Ali and learn that socially conscious rap needn't be a buzzkill.

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