Once upon a time I was going to see Nine Inch Nails three times in a span of a few weeks. For hardcore nin fans, sometimes you couldn’t care less about the opening act. One of those happened to be Saul Williams. I went in knowing next to nothing but also aware that I had never heard anything good nor bad about him. I knew he was somewhat experimental hip hop. That was it.
Needless to say, that first opening slot completely blew me and my friends away, and from that day forward I was a fan. His newer music hasn’t really had the bite of his earlier works, but his self titled, 2004 release is still one of the most intensely dope records I’ve ever heard, and becuase of that today I add it to the list of “Albums of My Life.” Enjoy
The first thing you hear on this record is Serj Tankian, yes that Serj, slowly beating piano keys. As the song flows though, Williams’ calm and measured vocals come over the speakers, and pretty quickly you realize this isn’t typical MTV rap(he even acknowledges it). The lyrics are also subversive and poignant, and they don’t rail against the typical themes prominent in hip hop. That’s what sets him apart. From the creepy opening of the record though, we dive right on into “Grippo,” which properly get’s the bass going. Saul’s vocals are grimy and dirty, but the mix is done in a way that makes it tolerable, even enjoyable.
Much of the album has that thought provoking emotional tone to it, but it only works well because how well the instrumentation is produced and mixed. “Telegram” features “dissonant chords around necks like nooses, and as Saul expounds about the death of hip hop, you can’t help but raise your hands in the air. Even the “Stop” playback is brilliant. Seriously though, this album is over ten years old and aside from maybe Kanye I’ve never heard anyone make hip hop this angry and full of brilliant rhymes.
When writing these segments, I try not to go to in depth on every single track, but the variety and also guest stars demonstrated here make it a little difficult. Track four, “Act III Scene 2(Shakespeare)” features legendary vocalist Zack de la Rocha, from a little band you might have heard of called Rage Against the Machine. He adds his normal venom to the song, and over a whirling beat the song dominates as the two vocalists bounce around each other.
The fifth song on the record though, is the big break he got from this album. “List of Demands(Reparations)” comes flooding over the ending of the previous track, and from the offset you can tell it’s gonna be a thumper that you can go crazy. The song is so passionate that I feel like anyone who has ever been disrespected can find solace in. Saul’s demanding to be heard, and to get what is owed him, and as an artist you can’t deny or disrespect his passion. Also refreshing is his vocal nature when it comes to God or a high power. I’m not sure of his religious beliefs, but it’s so refreshing to see someone actually speaking out about the bullshit hypocrisy in all religion, and also throwing out choice lines like “God is just a baby, and his diaper is wet.” It’s simply wonderful.
The next moderately well known song, “Black Stacey,” comes to us at number seven. This song is the epitome of young boy love that many of us have had. When he talks about his affections for various girls who scored high points in his bedroom fantasies you can relate to him. I surely can. Even now I’m a wonderful lover of the female form, and have admired many amazing creatures in my life. Thats what this song is to me.
As we approach the end of the record though, its important to keep the energy up, or at least interesting, and in both he largely succeeds. Track nine, “Surrender” has a killer drum and cymbal beat throughout, and once you get to the chorus it’s a song that very much feels like it would fit in a bar in a morbidly dark movie, where you have no idea what could happen. “Control Freak” sputters off to a start, but quickly finds its energy as Williams croons slightly over jagged beats and intricate details. It’s not an overtly in your face song, but the one two punch of the vocals surrounded by the beats behind him make it a potent track nonetheless.
Now this might strike you as weird, but the last song, “Notice of Eviction” has always reminded me of a hip hop song that was inspired by some of the darker works of Peter Gabriel or Depeche Mode. It’s a slow burn of a track, and as the record burns out in the darkness, it’s a song like this that makes the journey worth the arrival. Many records and the artists who make them don’t have the balls to put such a strikingly opposite song as the last track on a record, but Saul isn’t some typical artists, and while in my opinion he only made one more amazing record after this, his self titled album will always hold a special spot for me. Thanks for reading, see you Friday.
Landon Murray is a published writer and an avid lover of music, books and films. He's also a lover of the New Orleans Saints. He was born in 1982 and has a chainsaw tattoo on his arm.
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