Sage Francis and B. Dolan are Epic Beard Men. The underground veterans joined forces in 2018 for a free EP titled “Season 1.” 2019 saw the Providence, Rhode Island natives return with their full-length debut album released on Francis’ Strange Famous record label, “This Was Supposed to Be Fun.”
The 12-track album features appearances by Eligh, Vockah Redu, Yugen Blakrok, Blue Raspberry, and Slug of Atmosphere. Production on This Was Supposed to Be Fun is handled by Reanimator, DS3K, DJ Swab, Widowmaker, Adam Schneider, Romero Shaw, Jonah “Th’Mole” Mocium, and B. Dolan himself.
The duo is currently on the road in support of the album on the Come to the Sand Dunes tour with dates scheduled in Pontiac, MI (May 6, 2019), Cincinnati, OH (May 7), Cleveland, OH (May 8), Washington, DC (May 10), and Pawtucket, RI (May 17). Epic Beard Men will also perform as part of the 2019 Soundest Festival in Minneapolis on May 26.
The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Epic Beard Men about their upcoming Soundset performance, injecting comedy into their music, and their new album, This Was Supposed to Be Fun.
TRHH: First of all, Epic Beard Men is an ill name for a group. Who came up with the name?
Sage Francis: It’s the worst name for a group. There was the internet meme of Epic Beard Man who was the senior citizen on a bus and this younger cat was popping shit to him and he knocked him the fuck out. What did he say?
B. Dolan: He said, “Don’t fuck with old senior citizens, they’ll surprise you sometimes.”
Sage Francis: That’s kind of my spirit. At our age in Hip-Hop we’re like senior citizens to these kids, but we’ll still knock them out of the box, easily. No disrespect.
TRHH: The title of the new album is “This Was Supposed to Be Fun.” What’s the meaning behind the title of the album?
B. Dolan: It has multiple meanings, which is kind of why we like it. I think it means something different to both of us probably. It came about right at the end of the process. We were exchanging lots of possible album titles and Sage’s fiancé misread the title as “This Was Supposed to Be Fun” when actually it was “This is Supposed to Be Fun” and that was funnier. It was better and it was supposed to be the title.
Sage Francis: Going into the Epic Beard Men project the goal was to make more fun music. As solo artists we tend to be more heavy, political, and darker. So, when we first went into it we knew it was an opportunity to make some fun music. Always remember that this is supposed to be fun. If you’re not having fun you’re doing it wrong. Things got so not fun in life and we live so much of our life together on the road making music, so what we experience, we share with one another. We’re both sometimes going through some very heavy shit and it makes its way into the music – you can’t escape it. The album is fun, but there are also those darker moments where there’s some other shit happening too, so now we’re going to balance it out.
B. Dolan: I like the other meaning of This Was Supposed to Be Fun as a broad statement on the world in this time that we’re living in. Western Civilization was supposed to be Disney World and this shit is wrecked [laughs]. All of the offers and conveniences of modern living and capitalism, I think we’re in a “this was supposed to be fun” kind of moment where maybe the previous generations are seeing what unfettered fun and self-indulgence brings about in the world.
TRHH: Yesterday I listened to Blueprint’s podcast and he had J-Zone on there…
Sage Francis: They’re both the old homies, man.
TRHH: Yeah, you guys are like the same generation. Blueprint was saying that J-Zone is one of the few funny rappers. He was saying that they both come from that serious “lyrical, miracle” era, but Zone was funny and stood out. I was thinking about it and he’s right. Where is the humor? When I was coming up it was Biz Markie and it was Fresh Prince. You had your serious stuff and you had your funny stuff. What happened in Hip-Hop that the lighter stuff disappeared?
Sage Francis: The gangster rap happened.
B. Dolan: Mass marketing of that tough guy template for rappers.
Sage Francis: It wasn’t even just gangster rap, thug rap.
B. Dolan: Realness and those ideas that major music companies seized on. Where the money and energy went was sort of like a boiler plate of; this is what a rapper looks like, this is what a rapper talks about, this is what a rapper does, this is what you can expect. It got really simplified and reduced and rappers lost their range at a certain point.
Sage Francis: It’s not good to just be the funny rapper, because J-Zone was dope in a lot of ways. If he just was funny he wouldn’t have lasted very long. Even he will say that he probably suffered in his career because he wasn’t trying to put on a hard role. He wasn’t adopting images that were sell-able. He persevered in so many different ways. I love that he’s recreated how he goes about staying involved in music and falling back in love with what’s really fun about music. It’s true — I stopped having fun ages ago. I remember a time where I was saying, “This is fun!” But the industry has changed so drastically and it’s continuing to do so, so rapidly. It’s hard trying to keep up on that and have a viable business model, while trying to stay true to yourself in your music, and how you present your type of ideas and personality without being boxed into “I’m the funny guy,” “I’m the tough guy.”
B. Dolan: That’s what underground rap probably still has on the culture at large. We’re the part of rap that has not been forced to homogenize so it can be sold effectively. We can do whatever the fuck we want as long as our fans are down to listen. We use that freedom because that’s what we have over other emcees who can’t maybe make the song they want to make on a whim, they think is dope, or is funny to them or their friends. They can’t put that much of themselves on the records.
TRHH: How would you compare the new album to the first project, Season 1?
B. Dolan: It’s the same collection of songs, so it’s harder for us to compare them than other people. Because other people have heard them as separate projects, but for us, we started working on all of these songs at the same time, almost. Some came along later than others, but songs from Season 1 and this album were started at the same time in some cases. In general, I think we ended up putting a lot of big bangers on the EP and front loading it with stuff we knew was going to go off live and get people excited and hyped to be a part of it physically.
Sage Francis: We had a whole tour booked and we knew we couldn’t get the album done in time so we were like, “We need to get songs out. Let’s give them the bangers right now and we’ll make more bangers when we get a chance.” I would say the album “This Was Supposed to Be Fun” isn’t as riddled with bangers as Season 1 is. There’s some softer songs and moodier tracks along with the bangers.
B. Dolan: It also had all the things that were going to take bigger production time. They got left to the album for that reason. Songs like “Shin Splints” took mad long because we had to learn to do new things with our software and speed up and slow down. Shit that we were really, really working on and recording live instruments for were recorded and put on the album.
Sage Francis: Like “Pistol Dave.” It was one of the first songs we started working on and one of the last songs we finished [laughs].
TRHH: What inspired the song ‘Hedges’?
B. Dolan: What started me down that path was reading the Edward Snowden book and thinking about privacy and levels of invasion of privacy that we have come to deal with, and what spurs it on is our paranoia of each other and the world at large. I was thinking about that shit, but all that shit is very abstract and hard to make people feel any kind of way about. I thought about the ways that you do experience that in a physical way, like if you’re being stalked or you are surveying someone. At the same time, I have a weird fucking neighbor. The other neighbor on the other side moved out and me and my wife were like, “We should put up some hedges before the new neighbors move in so we don’t have to look at them, whatever the fuck they’re like.” And I was like, “This is it. This is border security on a very small level.”
Everyone is involved in border security at their house and in their yard. It started as a metaphor and I wrote a verse. People think I’m the normal one in that song, which is funny to me, because in my head I’m the aggressor in that song. I’m the guy that’s taking little pieces of information and drawing a conclusion that’s going to lead me to do some shit. That was the start of it and I hit a wall and couldn’t go any further after the first verse and the last bit. That was when Sage wrote the response from over the fence and really completed that song in the way that only two people could, and I’m pretty happy about.
TRHH: Along those same lines on the song ‘Man Overboard’ I think it was Sage who said, “Staying silent is a crime in certain instances/Being a bystander doesn’t grant you innocence.” Explain that line.
Sage Francis: I think a lot of us see bad shit go down and we feel like if we don’t address it that we aren’t part of the problem. It applies to a lot of things. I think what inspired that was the Black Lives Matters movement. There were certain artists that were afraid to claim that they were down with the Black Lives Matters movement because, “I don’t want people to think that blue lives don’t matter,” and stupid shit like that. They just stay silent and don’t say anything and now they’re free of any type of…
B. Dolan: Yeah, you can’t put me on a team. You don’t know what I think because I haven’t weighed in.
Sage Francis: It’s these white rappers, too. It’s nerd rappers. Rappers who are scared to make people know that they have an opinion on something that affects millions and millions of people.
B. Dolan: In a culture they borrow [laughs].
TRHH: Wouldn’t that alienate a certain fan base?
B. Dolan: Of course, the assholes. The right-wing, racist assholes. You have to alienate them at a certain point. It’s like, do you want those people riding for you?
Sage Francis: Then you have to be careful about what you write in your music because you don’t want to offend them. Fuck them!
B. Dolan: You lose the shitty half of your audience when you take sides.
TRHH: Dolan, you did the song speaking out against homophobia in rap, right?
B. Dolan: Yeah, there was a song called “What Side Are You On” in 2012. I’ve oddly enough been around queer people my whole life. In high school some of my best friends were queer. Some of my family members have come out to me in the past year. I’ve been lucky enough to know and love a lot of queer people. It was always a second nature thing to me. One of the things that drew me to Francis and Strange Famous was that he was out front about that stuff way early before other rappers were and putting it on record. “Which Side Are You On” came at a time in my life when I was on some self-examination stuff and I wanted to make a song like that one time to state very plainly certain things. Almost absence of poetry, absent of any tricky similes, it’s like, if you’re ever wondering where I’m at on any number of issues, this is it.
TRHH: Did you ever get backlash from anybody in Hip-Hop about that?
B. Dolan: Yeah, of course. That came out in 2012 and that mixtape had “Film the Police” and “Which Side Are You On.” Those are probably the biggest songs off that joint. I felt afterwards that I was a political rapper to a lot of people…
Sage Francis: But no one was like, “Ewww, you like gay people.”
B. Dolan: That’s like a show to show thing that has occasionally popped off. I never saw the blacklist with my name on it. I definitely lost some hardcore east coast tough guys in the mix.
TRHH: It’s one of those things I’ve thought a lot about. I don’t want to get into a tricky area, but it mostly comes from the black community and it stems from church…
B. Dolan: In that song I was aware of that and careful of that too. I took a long time to write that song. I had that sample for years and I knew I couldn’t fuck it up. When addressing homophobia in Hip-Hop it is tricky because it’s attached to black culture, black masculinity, the history of black masculinity, the history of emasculating black men, and it comes with its own set of problems and issues. You have men on the down low and what comes from that. I try not to be judging. I try to be aware of my position and who I am in relation to the culture, but also offer what I think is a valid critique. There are people who don’t feel comfortable at these shows, there are people who feel like they can’t party with you, and you’re losing out because of that.
TRHH: It’s hypocritical and it’s dangerous. You look at an artist like Latifah who has never come out, but should be allowed to. She probably won’t because of bullshit like this. Or Mister Cee who is getting hemmed up over bullshit and he shouldn’t have to.
B. Dolan: It’s tragic. A couple of weeks ago we had a gay couple that we’ve lived across the street from for years over for dinner. They’re in their fifties. A family member had just come out and we were talking about their experience. This dude is fifty years old and in a committed relationship for thirty years with the same person. He was raised Baptist and born in Arkansas and he’s at my kitchen table telling me, “I still wonder, ‘God, why would you make me this way?’” and “I still think I’m going to hell.” That’s just the previous generation. That’s what it is. There’s people that were lonely their whole lives, people that were in denial and got into all kinds of crazy shit because they couldn’t be who they are.
TRHH: On a lighter note, you guys will be performing at the 2019 Soundset Festival. What do you have in-store for fans at Soundset?
Sage Francis: [Laughs] We got DJ Zole backing us up. We haven’t ever had a DJ as a group together. I’ve had a DJ, but this is the first time as Epic Beard Men that we have a DJ…
B. Dolan: We have some special guests. I heard Pistol Dave is going to be in Minneapolis at that time.
Sage Francis: We’d like to do the full Pistol Dave track. Our bubble gun game is probably going to be super on point by then. Vockah Redu is going on tour with us and him and his dancer are probably going to teach us some sick routines that we’ll take to the Minneapolis stage.
B. Dolan: We might learn to twerk.
TRHH: I don’t know if I want to see that [laughs].
B. Dolan: We’re going to break that glass ceiling with our ass cheeks.
TRHH: Is there anyone on the Soundset bill that you’re excited to see just as a fan?
Sage Francis: DMX! For ages he’s been promising to give it to me, and I’m finally going to get it. That is the one act for sure that I need to see live. What’s yours?
B. Dolan: I’m going to probably see Lil’ Wayne’s set.
Sage Francis: Oh yeah, I’d like to see that. None of the indie rap crap. No underground for me. I’m going big.
B. Dolan: You’re going to avoid the Atmosphere stage then. You don’t want to see any of that stuff.
Sage Francis: Yeah, I’m not watching anyone on our stage.
B. Dolan: There’s a group called “Epic Beard Men.”
Sage Francis: Ugh.
B. Dolan: It’s ridiculous.
Sage Francis: It’s just dumb.
TRHH: Royce da ‘5’9” though?
B. Dolan: I haven’t even studied the lineup. I haven’t had time to fully absorb what’s going to happen at Soundset.
Sage Francis: I didn’t even know Lil’ Wayne was on it [laughs]. I don’t care so much about watching the music anymore, I’m just happy I get to see a lot of people that I don’t often get to see, talk to, and hang out.
TRHH: Who is the “This Was Supposed to Be Fun” album made for? Who is the target audience for this album?
B. Dolan: My seven-year-old nephew. I tried to make him laugh a lot. He liked Shin Splints.
Sage Francis: I want fans who like De La Soul who now don’t enjoy Hip-Hop anymore to hear it and be like, “Yes, this is why I liked Hip-Hop! That spirit. That kind of off the wall shit. There’s a lot of songs on there where that was my inspiration. I wanted to have Prince Paul inspired, bizarre, dumb stuff sometimes. Be dumb to be dumb and understand your audience is smart enough to know that you’re not really that dumb. You have to trust your audience. You have to trust they’re intelligent enough to know you’re not so dumb.
B. Dolan: You couldn’t possibly be that dumb [laughs].