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2006.07.31

[Absorbing: Saul_Williams]

Here's what we're about today: Saul Williams, and his staggeringly excellent self-titled record.

I don't want to say too much to kick this off, but I will say that what I love about Saul's record is the almost acrobatic intelligence of it, but even more than that, the way he sees art as a FORCE in the world. I like that he doesn't merely try to express existing feelings and realities in his work, but that he seems to approach his work as if new realities, and new ways to feel and express, can actually be created by it. I think it's particularly interesting how personal things like relationships and insecurities interact with political things like equality, and cultural expression on his record. There are some artists who can always tackle political issues without making you want to kill them, and I think that's because they talk about political things the way Saul does, in terms of his own engagement with them. I love the way Saul Williams has aspirations for the power of what he does that are enormously idealistic, but at the same time, humble, pragmatic, and interested in quotidian things. I like that he is unflinching about expressing that idealism.

All of that good stuff is, to my mind, the content of this totally kickass record, and in terms of its relationship to the genre of Hip Hop, it is a truly focused aesthetic statement; both a love letter and a slap in the face to what the genre has become.

I'll only add that since notre amour has been working with Saul, and has, it seems, wandered (or, perhaps strode purposefully) into more explicitly political territory, I think it's particularly pertinent to the moment we find ourselves in right now, of waiting to see what comes down the pike from the Empire of Dirt. To my mind, the idea of Saul and Trent working together is an incredibly exciting one for both of them, because while Trent has an an enormously eloquent musical voice, it has been noted by many a pundit that his writing is not on a par with that of William Shakespeare (though, personally, I think his writing is perfectly calibrated to his project, and much more sensitive and skillful than people give it credit for being), while Saul is most articulate in a more linguistic sense. I also think that contrast between the two of them has about a million fascinating possible facets, so... I'll leave something for the discussion.

Obviously, there are about a million things to say about this record, so bring it, dear readers.

Posted by Dierdre ~ in absorbing | Permalink

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Some rambling, unorganized notes:

I really do love this album. What I love most about it is the keen pride he takes in being intelligent. I mean, how much of music (both hip hop and rock) and our culture in general has been dumbed down beyond all recognition? And the state of rap/hip hop has got to be frustrating because there are all these important social issues that many artists just refuse to tackle in favor of frivolity.

And I agree that he discusses social problems and racial issues in a way that's not totally hammering you over the head.

My favorite songs: Grippo, List of Demands, African Student Movement, Black Stacey.

"Telegram" is also fascinating since it's a song expressing his frustration with rap, and it's got a sort of Ozzfest guitar in the background.

Regardless, the lyrics on all of these songs are tight and focused and have a sense of urgency about them. Unlike, say, his poetry circa 1999.

Oh, and his website is fucking gorgeous to look at. TAKE NOTE, TRENT.

Posted by: maise | Jul 31, 2006 7:06:57 AM

...i am ashamed to say I have no idea who we're talking about, but I feel I need to. Where the heck can I get this album?

Posted by: KittyKins | Jul 31, 2006 8:09:42 AM

Kittykins, you can get it anwhere albums are sold, I would think. I recommend iTunes, though. It's fastest.

Posted by: Dierdre | Jul 31, 2006 8:10:58 AM

And if you happen to have the Yahoo music service, you can listen to the whole thing right now.

Posted by: maise | Jul 31, 2006 8:12:50 AM

curse my lack of funding. -wails-


...jesus I'm a music whore.

Posted by: KittyKins | Jul 31, 2006 8:19:27 AM

Also, try YouTube...I'm too lazy to look up the exact links right now, but I'm sure they have the New Orleans benefit concert where Trent and Saul did "List of Demands" and "African Student Movement."

Posted by: maise | Jul 31, 2006 8:28:11 AM

so at the moment all I can find is the youtube thing Maise mentioned.

I'm not generally fond of hiphop, I'm very much so a techno/darkwave/goth/industrial girl. If I can slam my whole self into I love it, but! I will say this, I adore the message that I heard in "African Student Movement." And I despritely wish more people would listen to music that spreads a message like that. Now, ordinarily I would go on and on about said message, but my brain is a little fuzzy just no w...and I can't think for the life of me what it was about that song that struck me.


Crap. -face to desk-

Posted by: KittyKins | Jul 31, 2006 8:44:31 AM

and now I've found List of Demands...so...let's hope my brain will help me out on this one!

I could be entirely wrong, I'd have to go dig up the lyrics, but it sounds to me like he's making a very very LOUD statement about intolerence, which I always love. Like...whoa...love. I do like the fact that it seems he's taking a more aggresive approach to speaking out against it. Many people just preach that it's bad, but none of them seem to have the nerve to stand up and say "Knock it off or I'll stomp the shit out of you."

But, again, I may be entirely talking out of my ass here. But. In any event. I really like what I've been able to hear thus far. ~^.^~

Posted by: KittyKins | Jul 31, 2006 8:49:56 AM

...and I think I meant to say discrimination, or oppresion instead of intolerence. so....yea.

Posted by: KittyKins | Jul 31, 2006 8:51:02 AM

I think my favorite is "Black Stacey". I love the last part of the song when he calls on all the blinged-up to show their hearts -- that they aren't all rugged and tough. In fact, here are the lyrics to that part:

Now here's a little message for you, all you baller playa's got some insecurities too, that you could cover up, bling it up, cash in and ching ching it up, hope no one will bring it up, lock it down and string it up. Or, you can share your essence with us, 'cause everything about you couldn't be rugged and ruff, and even though you tote a glock and you're hot on the streets, if you dare to share your heart, we'll nod our heart to its beat.
And you should do that, if nothing else, to prove that a player like you could keep it honest and true. Don't mean to call your bluff but mothafucka that's what I do. You got platinum chain then, son, I'm probably talking to you. And you can call your gang, your posse and the rest of your crew. And while you're at it get them addicts and the indigent too. I plan to have a whole army by the time that I'm through to load their guns with songs they haven't sung.

That bit about the unsung-songs gets me everytime...

Posted by: Dierdre | Jul 31, 2006 9:06:25 AM

But also, the bit about those songs being like a loaded gun. I think there's a really interesting emotionalism to Williams's songs, and a willingness to seem soft and to express weakness and neediness. I like that he is calling on people to tell the truth about their broken hearts and insecurities -- those deep wounds that you can only heal on purpose, if you're willing to work for it.

This is kind of what I mean about his approaching his work like it can be a force. I think Saul feels that art can transform reality, and I love that about him.

I think that's something that Trent has always wanted to believe, and is maybe starting to invest in. Just my guess.

Posted by: Dierdre | Jul 31, 2006 9:12:14 AM

Well I can’t contribute much during the working hours of today, but I can pop in with a helpful youtube connection. This is the one that Maise was referencing above, Voodoo Fest. That was actually my first experience with Saul Williams and I think it was fabulous that I got to see those songs “live” (as it were) because you can just see so much more of the punctuation he expresses with his body movements. I hear more in what he says by how he moves with it; the hand motions for emphasis, and how he folds his hand on his hip when he’s spitting out a particular point, and how when he bounces all over the place you just want to bounce with him. I love how his little speech in between just kind of flows into “African Student Movement”. The music on the album is great, great beats, but I also love how it sounds with a hard rock band behind it. All that too corny? Anyway, here are the music videos he did for the singles. “List of Demands” and “Black Stacy”.

Maybe I did have more time that I thought at work. Out for now, be back later.

Posted by: Iris | Jul 31, 2006 9:16:06 AM

Damn you guys are posting faster than I can type again today.

And can you tell I'm a "talk with my hands" kind of person?

Posted by: Iris | Jul 31, 2006 9:19:11 AM

The only thing about the performances with Trent is that it's a little distracting and unintentionally hilarious hearing Trent sing "Where my niggas at?" in falsetto.

Posted by: maise | Jul 31, 2006 9:21:28 AM

LOL! Oh Trent. You an' yo niggas.

At least he didn't say "where my nuccas at."

Posted by: Jane | Jul 31, 2006 9:26:14 AM

I'd just like to add that when I saw Saul open for Trent in London last year, he blew me away. I had chills the entire time he was playing.

Posted by: Dierdre | Jul 31, 2006 9:32:22 AM

It was a bit distracting to hear the high pitched backing voice....and to know it was Trent. I had to watch it twice to hear the parts I missed because I was giggling.

Posted by: KittyKins | Jul 31, 2006 9:36:30 AM

where my nuccas at

I expect that line to be featured in the next l'orangerie stank song.

Posted by: maise | Jul 31, 2006 9:50:36 AM

I really wish that Saul had been our opening act for any of the concerts I went to, but alas. I should check out where he's appearing next...

Posted by: maise | Jul 31, 2006 9:51:42 AM

Meh, he's in Europe for much of the near future...

Posted by: maise | Jul 31, 2006 9:53:30 AM

Enough lurking! Hi.

I was surprised by how much I love this album. Musically I love how he incorporates stereotypically diverse genres. And how it works on several different levels; it pulls in people who would never have heard of him otherwise (like me, who would have ever thought I would find myself in the hip-hop section?), and could also be read as a subtle statement against the strict categories and their often racial implications in music today, and it just sounds cool.
And I must admit I am completely jealous. I would give anything to be able to express myself so eloquently and forcefully. If you didn’t get to see him live, I can’t say home many times you must do that. He blew me away.

Posted by: Adrienne | Jul 31, 2006 11:50:42 AM

Okay, here's where I become the least popular WTC commenter.

I just can't get into him. I was going to download the CD, but after listening to some clips, it didn't do anything for me.

Thanks to Iris for posting the YouTube clips...I watched parts of the two videos, but couldn't make it through. I made it further into the Voodoo Fest footage, and I liked the NIN/industrial component with Saul. But I just can't get into it.

I admire the points that he's making, but I think I might do better with his books.

Posted by: JR | Jul 31, 2006 11:52:59 AM

Though I am looking forward to reading further comments from you all--maybe you'll point out what I'm missing about him.

Posted by: JR | Jul 31, 2006 11:55:17 AM

Hey JR, no worries...you don't have to pretend to like something you don't just to be all in with the "cool kids."

Hmmm...I would just advise to give his self-titled album a full listen. I don't know that I would have fallen in love with him from brief clips either. But I know that I wouldn't have gotten the true sense of what his music is really like either.

I'm saying this as a person who generally feels "meh" about any kind of hip-hop/rap. Unless it comes with a Caribbean accent. Holy shit, a man could talk me into anything with that accent. But ahem...anyway.

I think that Saul Williams' work speaks to me because he does borrow from other genres, and he's really inclusive, as opposed to exclusive. And seeing as I grew up in a *very* de facto segregated area, where there were all kinds of cultural experiences that black and white people simply refused to share, I find that inclusivity to be really refreshing.

And again, I love that he's just calling everyone in general to just...be smarter!

Plus, it just sounds really, really cool. Especially "Grippo." That's my intellectual zenith of the day.

Posted by: maise | Jul 31, 2006 1:13:36 PM

JR, if you're only listening to snippets, you haven't even heard it. I think Saul Williams is going to turn out to be a real influence on Trent's next work. I mean, that alone should make it worth a listen, I'd think.

Posted by: Jane | Jul 31, 2006 1:15:21 PM

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