Dusted Reviews

Saul Williams - Saul Williams

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Saul Williams

Album: Saul Williams

Label: Fader

Review date: Sep. 22, 2004

Saul Williams has been a poet, an actor, a screenwriter (Slam), and now a musician. His 2001 major label debut, Amethyst Rock Star, began with the magnificent drum-and-bass influenced single “Penny For A Thought,” then deteriorated into poetry with mediocre riff-rock backing.

Saul Williams covers similar territory, and many of the same weaknesses are present. Williams’ vocal delivery is clearly inspired by hip hop, but he rarely aims for hip hop’s rhythmic sophistication. His phrasing is simple and direct – he either organizes his lines so that they rhyme and match each other syllable for syllable, or he recites his lyrics like a poet at a reading. His singing is most effective when he breaks from these patterns, as he does on “Grippo,” which has a busy melody that sounds like it could be the vocal on a great techno song. When Williams goes too far afield, however, he runs into trouble – some of the most melodic sections on Saul Williams are sung out of tune.

Williams’ backing tracks rarely do his vocals any favors. Several tracks are built around rock instrumentals or loops of rock bands (without the Bad Brains loop that guides it, “Telegram” couldn’t exist). These rock elements don’t bolster the songs, they bulldoze them: they’re very repetitive and full of hardcore clichés. Williams name-checks the Rye Coalition and Cursive in the liner notes; Williams’ rock fails to compare to even those bands’ B-grade indie.

These problems really should be secondary, though, since the focus of Saul Williams’ work is his lyrics. But his concerns (the state of black culture, war, the effects of corporations on America), though timely, have been described with much more color and wit by actual MCs who bring much more to the table musically than Williams does. Sometimes, as on “African Student Movement,” the self-righteousness of his message and delivery are made unintentionally comic by the awkwardness of his words: “Freedom / Ignorance / Jealousy / Belligerence / Anger / Self-control / Tolerance / To and fro.”

Later in the song, however, he takes on our war-happy government for exploiting poor black youth: “Underpaid / Read like / Second grade / Uncle Sam / Sign you up / Benefits / And a gun.” He does it again on “Act III Scene 2 (Shakespeare)”: “It’s just coincidence that oil men would wage war on an oil rich land / And this one goes out to my man / Taking cover in the trenches with a gun in his hand / Then gets home and no one flinches when he can’t feed his fam.

In 2001, on the I Love Music discussion board, Williams wrote, “I am not aiming to be any more than myself: A being influenced greatly by hip hop who has learned the power of words and music and believes in the power of art to redefine a culture, globally... We need life changing music.” It is to Williams’ credit that he aims high, and in the direction of some seriously vile policies and decisions at that. Part of me hopes that Saul Williams will catch on and change minds. But another, bigger, part of me simply wishes it were better.

By Charlie Wilmoth

Read More

View all articles by Charlie Wilmoth

Find out more about Fader

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.