Saul Williams: Saul Williams (2004)

saul_williams

Grippo on another level.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: In 2001 New York slam-poet Saul Williams released his first album Amethyst Rock Star, the result of a difficult, label-controlled recording process. His unhappiness led him to kick his label to the curb and record his follow up on his own, the self-representative Saul Williams.

Wielding his flexible voice like a Swiss Army knife, Williams inhabits his energetic poems with an endless range of vocal styles – rapping, reciting, singing, shouting – while emoting his pet themes of self-awareness and hip-hop stagnation.

The xenophobic “Talk to Strangers” features unsettlingly icy piano from Serj Tankian (the lead singer of System Of A Down), its ballet grace compounding the paranoid confessional.

“Grippo”, Williams’ name for the song’s industrial punk-hop style, was written after attending a paradigm-shifting concert by white rappers. “So substitute the anger and oppression/ With the guilt and depression/ And its yours.” Stuck together like Brooklyn traffic, the greasy punk vocal dances around the guitars’ car alarm melody.

Hip-hop gets a stern talking-to in the vicious “Telegram”. Old-school flow melts over older-school heavy metal as Williams broadcasts the message:

We are discontinuing our current line of braggadocio,
in light of the current trend in “realness”. (stop).
As an alternative, we will be confiscating weed supplies
and replacing them with magic mushrooms,
in hopes of helping niggas see beyond their reality. (stop).

Williams backs up a truck full of cutting-edge beats and sounds to his prose. “List of Demands (Reparations)” finds him pleading over the vibration of massive turbines, and the distorted, dry, pasta crunch drums of “African Student Movement” charmingly unifies the rhythms of urban industrial and African township.

The piano jazz of “Black Stacey” is a humorous platform for him to croon and scat painful recollections of childhood racial politics:

I used to use bleaching creme,
’til Madame CJ Walker walked into my dreams.
I dreamt of being white and complimented by you,
but the only shiny black thing that you liked was my shoes….
I was Black Stacey.
the preachers’ son from Haiti
who rhymed a lot and always got
the dance steps at the party.
I was Black Stacey.
you thought it wouldn’t faze me,
but it did
’cause I was just a kid.

Multiple voices, rock solid flow, exciting tunes, a high-profile arts career – what happened to this album?

THE FALLOUT: I looked for Saul Williams in the Rock section of my favorite record store. Finding nothing I then zoomed over to the Spoken Word section, where I found lots of similar albums by poets, although they were all Caucasian. Eventually I found it the Hip-Hop section, after the Westside Connection divider.

Usually an album this diverse would be placed in the Rock section, as it generally serves as a catch-all for departure albums. I wonder how many people looked for it and simply gave up the search.

Saul Williams is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

A propulsive snapshot of his current mental state, Saul Williams is the sound of a free thinker, an alive mind, and hot beats.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Shuggie Otis breaks with convention, and possibly reality.

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