A true artist might sacrifice everything, from their family to their health, to create meaningful works of art. But applause, praise, or even having an audience at all, are secondary to the art itself, which is often described as a living thing, demanding its own creation. Recognition is nice. Making the art that’s screaming to be made is critical.

Sage Francis (photo: Anthony St. James. strangefamousrecords.com)

Who could have guessed that 50 Cent would be famous for getting shot nine times? Or that Tila Tequila would be famous for being famous? Or that Nicole Ritchie would be famous for no reason at all? Record labels make stars instead of music, and Creed has sold more albums than Jimi Hendrix. An musician who rose to the top on the strength of their own achievements is more impressive today than ever. Fortunately the NFL different. Instead of image, or popularity, it’s based mostly on substance. With the exception of a few declining star players, who might be given the benefit of the doubt for two seasons too long, a player’s or coach’s skill and results determine their career options.

(The exception is NFL owners. For them, like the music industry, it’s mostly money.)

This week I spoke with Sage Francis: hip-hop poet, blasphemist emcee, and lyricist provocateur. You may know of him from any one of his solo albums, as half of the Non-Prophets, or as the founder of Strange Famous Records. You may not know that he’s also a professional football fan.

No stranger to the game’s history, Sage seemed as intrigued as I am about the fact that Hunter S. Thompson and Richard M. Nixon can be improbably connected to each other, through their football fandom. We spoke about the New England Patriots, playing middle linebacker for his high school team, and a far more-gracious-than-was-strictly-necessary answer when I led into a serious topic perhaps a little too flippantly.

First off, thank you for agreeing to do this with me. You’re usually associated with the Minnesota  underground sound. Are you a Vikings fan? Where do you see the team going in the next few years?

Although I consider the Twin Cities to be my home away from home away from home, I’m an east coast boy. More  specifically, a New England khed. I’m not a Vikings fan, but I feel for their fans. I don’t see anything great happening with that team in the next few years unless they bring Favre out of retirement. Just kidding.

You won the Superbowl MC Battle in Boston in 1999. How did it make you feel when Tom Brady upstaged you two years later in the regular Super Bowl?

I felt upset, but it’s not because I was upstaged by Brady. I remember that night quite well actually. I was flying home from Europe and due to a couple ridiculous flight delays I was only able to catch the last two plays of the game. I wrote a hand-written letter of hate to the airline and demanded that they return my money for making me miss the game. I was not reimbursed. I can never be mad at Brady though. He was supposed to be finished years ago, but he came back from a horrible injury and continued being amazing. People hate on that guy for being abnormally great at what he does. Every time people criticize him it always reminds me of the kid in this video:

In “Life Is What Distracts You From Death” you joke that ‘it’s all downhill just like the Patriots.’ It was released on an album in 2005, but it sounds like a freestyle that was recorded several years earlier. Do you remember when you recorded that line, and do you have any thoughts on that prediction now?

That was a live radio recording of mine from 1999 or so, which was during the tail end of the Patriots’ bummy period. I grew up with a Pats team that let us down year after year. That’s why, if you’ll notice, my “It’s all downhill from here like the Patriots” sentiment made people bug out in the radio studio. I remember it well. And then, thanks to Brady and Belichick, the organization took an upward turn and I realized that my line had become temporarily obsolete. I’m sure it will be relevant once again. Probably sooner than later.

You played some football in high school and college at middle linebacker, where you learned to prefer a 4-3 defense over a 3-4 because you “don’t like sharing that territory.” Tell me a little more about your experience as a player.

I played all types of sports growing up, but I didn’t get to play football until I was in 7th grade. I took to it immediately. I was an aggressive kid and I apparently had inexhaustible energy considering how I played offense, defense and special teams all in the same game. I preferred playing fullback but I was more successful as a middle linebacker. I started playing on the varsity squad when I was in 9th grade which scared my silly. I was only 13 going on 14 in my freshman year, and here I was expected to tackle people who were twice my size. At one point I considered quitting, but uhh… pops wasn’t having that. Haha. It didn’t help that I played for one of the worst football teams in high school sports history, but that’s besides the point. I did well and I earned some awards in the process. I did a lot of dumb things too…such as not wearing protective gear if I could get away with it. I didn’t like how it restricted my movement. Of course I still feel residual pain from those days. My friends and I used to call it “Hurt Ball.” The game really seemed to be about how much pain you can tolerate, and this was especially true when playing in freezing temperatures. The frozen field was hard as concrete. Regardless, I still have dreams about playing the game and I miss it a lot. Those were good times.

Sage Francis – May 30, 2007 Rest & Relaxation Hotel, WDC (photo: Joseph Nicolia)

Do you feel there’s a connection between getting “in the zone” on game day vs. getting in the zone when you’re freestyling?

I suppose so, yeah. Getting in the zone is all about tapping into that meta-confident state, where your focus becomes fine tuned on the moment to the point where you’re operating on the highest possible level. It can be a transcendent experience. When you’re on, you’re on. And when you’re really lucky, things just go your way in those moments.

Is spectator football popular in the hip-hop DJ/MC/producer crowd? What other artists do you know that are fans?

It is incredibly popular. Like…huge. Our fans don’t seem to know that, because every time I talk about professional sports on a social network I get a barrage of negative responses (because, you know, sports are the devil) or responses like “Wow, I didn’t know you liked sports. AWESOME!” Truthfully, the only artist I’m close to who doesn’t really watch sports is B. Dolan. Everyone else has their specific team or sport that they invest their time and emotions into.

What kind of fan are you? Do you casually tune in to whatever game is broadcast when you’re not busy, or do you make it a point to go to a sports bar every Sunday so you can watch six games at once?

I actually didn’t pay too much attention to professional sports until I was in my 30’s. Sure, I was a casual New England sports fan my whole life and I’d watch the important games, but other than that I never felt truly invested in the games. My dad was a fanatic though. He took me to Red Sox games and a Patriots game. In fact, people wore Patriots jerseys and Red Sox gear to his funeral. It’s kind of a shame that professional sports didn’t officially *click* with me until he was gone, but while he was around it was always good to be able to speak about sports with him when we didn’t share any other mutual interests. These days I would consider myself a moderate sports fanatic. I watch all the football games, I watch the Bruins when I can manage to find them on TV, and I even watch the Red Sox games that don’t matter. If that’s not proof enough that I am officially an old man, I also listen to sports talk radio now. I even look forward to it. I must be experiencing manopause.

You hate the Cowboys, right? Besides being completely evil, why do you think everybody hates Dallas so much?

When I was growing up, the Cowboys were the dynasty. So maybe the hate that they receive is a residual one. I’m not totally sure. Personally, I have no particular dislike of the Cowboys. In fact, I kind of feel bad for their program and their fans. They’ve been struggling for a while now. They’re due for a comeback.

If you could hang out with any NFL player, who would you pick? What player would you ask to make a cameo appearance on a future album, and what might you rap about?

I don’t let people rap on my albums. I’ve recorded 6 studio albums now and not a single one of them has a featured guest rapper. Not even Busta Rhymes to do a chorus. That is by design. And the more that I think about it, there isn’t any NFL player I’d like to hang out with. It would probably be best to chill with a low profile lineman just so I can hear him dish the dirt on the more popular players.

I’ve always thought Aaron Rodgers is kind of ugly. Is that why God loves him so much?

I don’t know why you think Aaron Rodgers is ugly. He’s just a regular looking white guy. He seems like a lot of fun though. If I had to go on instinct alone, I’d say that he is one of the more personable quarterbacks in the NFL. BTW, I’m not Slug. He’s a good friend of mine and I love the dude, but I’m starting to feel like you’ve confused me for a midwest emcee with the “God Loves Ugly” reference. haha.

(photo: Anthony St. James. strangefamousrecords.com)

Football: more hip hop, or more rock and roll?

Football used to be more rock and roll. Because that was the status quo. Now it is more hip hop. For the same reason.

Football is big business and highly popular, so of course there is going to be a merchandising machine around it in a capitalist society. When you get down to the psychology of it all, it’s strange to realize that certain teams, sports and communities actually BENEFIT due to the availability and sales of this merchandise. As a musician, I see how that works on a much smaller scale. It’s possible that sports are a distraction to more important matters, but it’s also possible that sports are what give people of varying political ideologies some type of conversational common ground. It can act as a bridge.

If you could be molested by any coach at a Division-I college, who would you choose?

Since you brought up this topic, even though it was done in a distasteful way (oh snap,) I think it’s a good opportunity to mention how this is a prime example of how sports talk can bridge into more relavent social matters. I know people who have been emotionally crippled due to molestation. They carry this shame well into adulthood and it negatively affects many aspect of their life. Currently, we are holding adult conversations about this matter and speaking openly about sexual abuse due to the Sandusky case. Because of that, people are feeling more comfortable about coming out of the shadows to tell their own stories which will hopefully educate the public and spare more children from being victimized.

I don’t want to end this interview on such a heavy note, so let me just offer you something on a lighter note. I really look forward to Tim Tebow’s imminent freak out and career ending scandal. I don’t say this because he is a Christian  missionary posing as an NFL quarterback. I say this because he is Satan’s spawn posing as a Christian missionary.

Sage Francis is an underground hip-hop emcee. His newest album is called Li(f)e, available from his label Strange Famous Records. You can visit Sage at http://www.sagefrancis.net/, you can purchase his albums at http://www.strangefamousrecords.com/, or listen to the Strange Famous Youtube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/strangefamousrecords

This interview was originally published on December 18 , 2011 in The Warren Peace NFL Report at  http://fuckitimgoingdeep.wordpress.com/2011/12/18/celebrity-interview-series-part-1-sage-francis/. I’d like to thank Sage and his record label Strange Famous Records for allowing their copyright to be reprinted.


Pete is a Redskins fan living in Bronco country. He’s co-founder of the Team Tomorrow ski and snowboard team, and a guy at the bar last Sunday told him, “you know a lot about football for a weirdo.” He is also HEAD writer for the Warren Peace NFL Report. Follow Pete on twitter @TakingaKnee303