Poetry is a force of nature. It can successfully move through mediums with grace. Saul Williams is an actor and a musician but he is a poet before everything. Some may have seen him at Poetry Slams; others may have seen him in the films Slam and K-Pax. Saul Williams has been making music for years. His song, Ohm, was featured on the Lyricist’s Lounge compilation and he also collaborated with Tre Hardson, formerly of The Pharcyde. After an LP (Amethyst Rock Star) and an EP (Not In My Name) of music and numerous books, Saul Williams returns with his self-titled album on Faderlabel Records. While some may think of spoken word LPs as boring, Saul Williams brings diversity and melody to his album. While he is a poet, Williams does sing, chant, yell, rap, and moan over both hip-hop and rock rhythms and melodies. The music of Saul Williams can truly take the listener by surprise. He’s extremely soulful, politically conscious, afrocentric, and deeply emotional. He can go from rock hard metal to African tribal. He can go from loud and angry to feminine and soft. He can go from being extremely abstract to being very precise and specific about situations. The self-titled album by Saul Williams is refreshing work, overflowing with poetry, hip-hop, rock, and a love for Black culture.
From the very beginning of the LP, Saul takes a unique approach to his music. The opening track, Talk To Strangers, has a hypnotic piano melody and spoken word lyrics. The final line is extremely meaningful: “There’s nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come”. The following track, Grippo, is an extremely energetic take on hip-hop music and how it has been uprooted somewhat from its initial beginnings. Saul sings, “…I gave hip-hop to white boys when nobody was looking / They found it locked in a basement when they gentrified Brooklyn / I left a list of instructions, an MPC, and a mic / My sci-fi library and utensils to write”. The funky rhythms along with the wild guitar sounds make this a fusion of both hip-hop and rock music, which also shows how white culture and Black culture has intertwined. List Of Demands (Reparations) is another intense and upbeat track with anger and aggression. The metal-like guitar melody and the pounding drums work well, and the track is energetic, hypnotic, and thought provoking.
Saul’s afrocentricity is explored with both honesty and vulnerability. African Student Movement is a very tribal sounding track. For the verses, Saul’s poetic delivery is simple yet satisfying as he goes back and forth using single words instead of sentences. The rhythm truly moves the body and the mind. The following track, Black Stacey is an insightful tale of his childhood frustration and how he dealt with his culture and heritage. It turns out that Stacey is his middle name. Although nostalgia and bitterness meet in the track, the overriding vulnerability makes this song wonderfully appealing.
Some tracks do not hit as hard as the others. Act II Scene 2 (Shakespeare) features Zack De La Rocha. Even though the energy is intense, the track just does have the timeless quality of the others. Many of the spoken word tracks like Notice Of Eviction are interesting and entertaining, but also lack that extra element.
The self-titled album by Saul Williams hits you after a couple of listens. While at first, the listener may dismiss it as too poetic or a spoken word Def Poets CD. But give the album a chance and you never know where the music will take them. Maybe Saul did not know where he was taking the music while he was making it, and the album goes from being universally appealing to being downright odd. Like poetry itself, Saul Williams is a force of nature.
Saul Williams (2004)
Genre: Hip Hop/spoken word
Record Label: Fader