...his intense Black-SF-styled poetry across a barrage of harsh drum and bass grooves...
Dan Hill 2002-11-20
As the eminence grise of the East Coast Slam poetry/hip-hop scene, Saul Williams has exerted a heavy, heavy influence, but largely from the margins thus far. He's popped up on compilations here and there; issued the odd 12"; appeared on DJ Krust's mighty "Coded Language" (which is featured here); acted in the film "Slam", and so on. Yet other rappers who have delivered big-time - Mike Ladd, Mos Def, fr'instance - would talk in hushed tones of Saul Williams' forthcoming album as this has been a long, LONG time coming. Now it's finally here, was it really worth the wait? Well, yes. And no. As it turns out, Saul Williams has delivered not one but two different records. Or rather, it's an album of two halves, which isn't quite the same thing at all.
Don't get me wrong - when Williams lets fly, he's unstoppable. When spattering his intense Black-SF-styled poetry across a barrage of harsh drum and bass grooves or ghostly electronic hip-hop, it's a beautiful, awesome sound. Totally compelling. When he plays the 'rawk' card however, which he does on several lumpen, Rick Rubin-produced, sub-Living Colour hard-rock tracks, it just doesn't convince. Williams's voice deserves better than to be stretched to fit into some kinda Luke Warm Chilli Peppers scene; his impossibly inspired lyrics and hyper speech patterns are better served in the freer, deeper, smarter context of the tracks which open 'Amethyst Rock Star'. Saul Williams' talent was never in doubt - he's utterly unique, effectively ploughing his own far out furrow, way beyond comparison. And six or seven tracks here fulfill his extraordinary potential. It's just that with an equally visionary brain behind the mixing desk (Oh for a Timbaland, or any of the Anticon/Mush Records crew), we'd be talking a landmark hip-hop record. A near-miss then, but a near-classic too.