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. While some may have seen him at Poetry Slams and others may have saw him in the films Slam and K-Pax. Saul Williams has been making music for years. His song “Ohm” was featured on “Lyricist’s Lounge” compilation and he also did a collaboration 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. Musically and lyrically, he pushes the envelope like Andre 3000, Common, Cee-Lo, Tre Hardson, Erykah Badu, and Lauryn Hill. The self-titled album by Saul Williams is like a breath of fresh air that is 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 race has affected the art form. 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 / Right or wrong / I think hip-hop is where it belongs…” 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. Saul sings the hook: “…I got a list of demands / written on the palm of my hands / I ball my fist and you’re gonna know where I stand / We’re living hand to mouth…” The track is energetic, hypnotic, and thought provoking. “PG” is another wonderful track where Williams sings in a low voice: “…I got a heartbeat produced by God and boy it sounds hard…” The song is too short and leaves the listener wanting more. Other interesting tracks include “Control Freak” and “Seaweed” that uses a mystical sounding vocal sample.
Saul’s afrocentricity is explored with both honesty and vulnerability. “African Student Movement” is a very tribal sounding track where Saul repeats, “Tell me where my n*ggas at? / African people!” For the verses, Saul’s poetic delivery is simple yet satisfying as he goes back and forth using single words instead of sentences: “…Freedom – ignorance / jealousy – belligerence / Anger – self-control / tolerance -to and fro / Wisdom –ecstasy / addiction - dependency / discipline – counter act / Pray for peace – then attack…” 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. (Stacey is his middle name.) The chanted chorus is both moving and catchy: “…Black Stacey / The preacher’s 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 phase me / But it did / Because I was just a kid…” Although there is a nostalgic and bitterness to the track, the vulnerability displayed makes this song wonderfully honest and 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 as the others. Many of the spoken word tracks like “Notice Of Eviction” are interesting and entertaining but also do not have that timeless quality.
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. This reviewer urges listeners to give the album a chance and listen to it a good 3 to 4 times. Soon, it will get both emotional and physical. The beauty of this album is that listener will not expect where the music will take them. Maybe Saul did not know where he was taking the music while he was making it. Saul Williams goes from having universal appeal to being extremely odd and abstract. Produced by Saul and Mickey P, this LP is loud and in-your-face similar to a poetry slam but the melodies and musical aspects of the LP elevate Saul to another level. Like poetry, Saul Williams is a force of nature and his music will force you to open your mind and ears.