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The marriage between art and entertainment in music has always been a dubious one, with hip-hop no exception. That’s what makes Sage Francis, the spoken-word poet and freestyle-rhyme champion, one of the medium’s brightest hopes. Hailing from Rhode Island (not exactly a hip-hop mecca), Francis bagged the top rhyming honors at both 1999’s Superbowl Emcee Battle in Boston and the 2000 Scribble Jam Battle in Cincinnati, after which he focused on his first full-length album, “Personal Journals,” on Anticon. Filled with razor-sharp narratives and DIY production, “Personal Journals” is the best hip-hop you’ll never hear on the radio.

Francis is first and foremost a lyricist. Like that of Outkast, his prose is packed with clever wordplay (“avant-garden of Eden,” “father figure-eights,” “low self-esteem-engine”) and delivered at breakneck speed. Further listens reveal his talent for enjambment and rhythm/verse change-ups.

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