Dear Diary: "I'm a real underground rapper: my tape quality sucks, my records are warped, and my CD skips." A peripheral member of the Anticon family, similar in status and stance to Josh Martinez or Buck 65, Sage Francis is a battle-tested MC who's garnered bouquets from mic-wielding meets in all manner of locales. But it's easy to see Sage, from provincial Providence, R.I., as mad poet wandering through the hip-hop world with this painful naïveté. Personal Journals, as its title attests, is a collection of scattered thoughts, ranging from familiar hip-hop territories (how good he is) to unfamiliar confessionals, with countless references to crack coming across the whole. Francis's confessionals are the real deal, too none of these bullshit manful revelations in which men create a kind of "poetic" disclosure, remaining in the process just as mysterious as if they never even revealed anything. "Specialist" is a stark-naked heart-on-sleeve love poem in smoke-signal form, Sage sage in the knowledge that it's "just a fucking shame this is how I choose to communicate." He knows that revealing all these things he can't say through a song is cowardly in just as many ways as it is brave, knows that it's beyond emotionally retarded that he feels "the most beautifulest thing in the world is making up words when have none else left to say to a girl." But, going on, he ups the confessional, self-aware, self-loathing subject matter to uncomfortable levels, unleashing glimpses of the most intimate intimacies of a union, divulging thoughts like "The one that I'm with thinks sex is a beautiful thing/ She thinks I'm something special/ She's my specialist/ More beautiful than sex/ Because only something like sex makes something so lovely turn ugly." Such sentiments recall the work of Neutral Milk Hotel's profoundly poetic retro-pop hippie Jeff Mangum, whose songwriting oeuvre contains a tune earnestly titled "Song Against Sex," and who has wondered publicly why, if he's found something truly beautiful, he'd want to stick his dick in it.