First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2004, Volume 11, #10
Written by T.J. Simon
Poet/actor/rapper Saul Williams gained widespread attention after starring in the hip-hop poetry film Slam, and therefore, itís no surprise that his self-titled second album is a fusion of spoken-word pieces, DJ breakbeats, prog-rock guitars, and punk sensibility. Williams cites The Mars Volta, Cursive, Blackalicious, and Cody ChestnuTT as influences, and the styles of these disparate artists shine through on this eclectic and challenging release. A gifted wordsmith, his lyrics are full of intelligent, in-your-face politics and social commentary, and throughout the collection, Williams raps and rhymes about a variety of big ideas including gentrification, slavery reparations, and MTVís proclivity toward the ghetto-thug subculture.
The eponymous disc begins with Talk to Strangers, an artistic recitation placed over a piano loop, and while itís not much of a song, it successfully establishes Williams as a talent much smarter than an entire cell block of his gangsta counterparts. Telegram is another poem performed over a Bad Brains guitar sample ó a cool idea that might have worked had Williams taken the time to synch his rhymes with the pace of the music. One of the albumís blistering high points is Act III Scene 2 (Shakespeare) where vocals are shared with Zack de la Rocha, formerly of Rage Against the Machine.
For all its ambitions, Saul Williamsí sophomore effort is far from being an easy listen. The closest thing it has to a catchy song is the Caribbean-influenced Black Stacey, which deals with the unfortunate transformation of youthful insecurity into black militancy. The disc also has many painfully bad moments including Williamsí ill-advised attempt at singing prog-metal on Surrender (A Second Time to Think) and three concluding tracks that go absolutely nowhere. With too many grating and half-baked cuts, Williamsí latest outing is difficult to recommend, but that shouldnít prevent adventurous listeners from exploring the albumís finer moments because both his inventive zeal and talent are huge, even if they frequently donít mesh. Ĺ
Saul Williams is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2004 The Music Box