Record Review - 3 November 18 2004

Saul Williams is a telegram from another time. Continuing a tradition passed on from the Last Poets, Watts Prophets and Gil Scott-Heron, Williams promotes socio-political consciousness with character(s) and cadence now missing from much hip-hop. As Amiri Baraka and Langston Hughes did before, Williams shows how spoken word can be explosive-tipped and delivered in propulsive patois that puts many a mercurial MC to shame. Saul Williams is an Afro-centric Beat poet of our time; he slams critiques across both the page and drum patterns.

As on 2001’s Amethyst Rock Star, produced by original hip-hop architect Rick Rubin, Saul Williams takes an unconven-tional approach to hip-hop. This is not your parents’ “Walk This Way.” This is go-your-own-way to a grinding, careening guitar reminiscent of Primus and Bad Brains atop hammer drops of bass. “Act III Scene 2 (Shakespeare)” marries the construct to burbling snyths, sputtering hiss and a guest spot by Zach de la Rocha, exhibiting the inevitable extension of the sound that stretched from Rubin to rage/rap-rock.

Saul Williams is not what you’d term an “accessible” release. What it is is “challenging.” As Williams himself would surely say, he doesn’t want you bobbing your head mindlessly, affirmatively, as you’re prone to do with traditional hip-hop. He’d rather you shake your head, trying to wrap it around his stereotype-shattering smatterings of words and sounds.

-- Tony Ware
Saul Williams performs at the Apache Cafe Sat., Nov. 20. 9 p.m. $15.