Monday, August 29, 2005

Saul Williams

Breath of Life updated their weekly musings on music, and one of this week's artists is none other than the modern griot Saul Williams.

If you don't know who Saul Williams is let me first say that he is hard to label. He is a spoken word artist, an actor, a musician, an MC, a writer, and poet. His words are always thought provoking, often powerful and inspiring, and frequently borderline genius.

B.O.L. is taking a look at Saul's track Black Stacey off his 2004 self-titled album. Black Stacey is a glaringly honest track about Saul's insecurities growing up as skinny, dark-skinned kid. One of my favorite cuts off the album, it features Saul bearing his soul for all to see. While more straightforward then his usual metaphor-laden, linguistic concoctions, Black Stacey demonstrates Saul's ability to connect with his audience. His charisma is undeniable in my opinion, and, considering most of his audience is probably White, I think it really shines through in this song because he exposes his particular racial insecurities in a way that truly universalizes them.

B.O.L. doesn't seem too blown away with Saul's music, but his 2004 album was one of my favorites of the year. It doesn't sound like commercial hip hop, but to me it was very much a hip hop album set to a punk-rock score. I think the heavy sounds of the album alienated some listeners - but that is really their loss. The songs are rich with lyrical meaning, and the sound expresses the passion of the words - emphasizing the emotions present in Saul's delivery. The production isn't very radio friendly, but for me it is still effective in providing a musical heart-beat for Saul's startingly powerful and complex lyrics. Plus, he drops lines like "I left hip hop to white boys when nobody was looking/found it locked in the basement when they gentrified brooklyn." That could be spit over a harpsicord and a mouth harp and it would still be hip hop in my eyes.

The Pitchfork review of the album really spells out the biggest challenge with marrying the rich lyrical style of Williams' verse with any type of music.

"It's probably a frustration to artists like Saul Williams to feel as though they're preaching to the converted, when their message is one of widespread mental enlightenment. While the experimentalism of slam poetry is aimed at making complex or subtle emotions digestible to large audiences, musical experimentation tends to immediately alienate large portions of listeners. Still, Saul Williams is stuck between two conceits. To fulfill the huge potential inherent in his style, he's either going to have to find more abstract sonics and freer forms to compliment his equally liquid verse, or fully give himself over to writing some radio-friendly, MTV-ready material. Either would be a good move from a poet with the potential to fully embody the fiercely potent voice of right now."

For a great interview with Saul, check out Tastes Like Chicken. And cop that album now. And check out the message board on the official site, which apparently Saul reads and participates in now and again.

You can also check out Saul's most recent written work here.

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