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Interview: Saul Williams

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Saul Williams is the voice of rebellion. He’s been the star of the stage, the screen, and the creator of two critically acclaimed albums. He has no fear, taking on hip-hop, the Black community, the White community, and America itself. Recently, Saul toured with the heavy metal group and he released his third book, The Dead Emcee Scrolls.

So I was reading your bio and it was saying that your mom was rushed from a James Brown concert to give birth to you… What is that all about?

I don’t know, I was in the belly (laughs).

Well… on the 27th of February, 1972, when the concert was getting good, my mom had to get rushed from the hospital. I started kicking her like crazy.

So you were are revolutionary in the beginning?

First of all, I don’t think of myself as a revolutionary. I think of myself as ME. My parents were activists. My dad was active on several fronts and at rallies. He was beside Dr. King and Jesse Jackson. My mom brought the Black History Month celebration to our school district as well. We had guests at the house like Jesse Jackson and Louis Farrakhan. I grew up interacting with these cats. They were my heroes growing up.

[ADBLOCKHERE]Were they also the inspiration for your poetry?

Not at all. All that shit was cool to me but I didn’t give a fuck. I started out as an MC, not a poet. I was inspired by Run DMC, but when KRS One dropped I was inspired… When I was 13, I was rappin’ about cars, girls, sneakers, and even fuckin’ grills. I got jumped in 8th grade and they took my Gucci pouch, my jewelry, my nameplate, my fake Gucci watch. That’s one of the reasons I don’t bling today. I don’t bling, I blame. My dad would ask me to write rhymes for these community events he would be putting on. And I was like “Hell yeah!” I would say some rhymes about “Say No To Drugs” or something like that, and then I realized that I could be political and rock the house at the same time.

Is that how you got started as a musician?

I was a breakdancer. I was always a dancer and that has the music side of me got known. But most of the stuff you dance to was mindless. But if you throw some Public Enemy on there, we would start dancing harder. I would dance harder when it had a message to it.

You talk about the state of hip-hop in Telegram. There has been so many discussions on the state of the genre lately, especially North vs. South. But what do YOU think about where hip-hop is right now?

There are some groups like Outkast that never let me down. The is tons of shit that’s out right now that shouldn’t be popular. Like the Puffy/Mase shit. I was like….”What the fuck?” When I was in NYC I heard that all the time. And the backpackers didn’t help me either. I need progressive beats AND progressive themes. If some MC would spit progressive lyrics over progressive beats, I would be like…DAMN! But its just not there.

Is that why did you decide to give your albums. Amethyst Rock Star, and the self-titled Saul Williams, a rock edge rather than a “traditional” hip-hop sound?

Fuck tradition. My music is actually more traditional hip-hop than most stuff out there. What established hip-hop in the mainstream was RUN-DMC and the Beastie Boys and it was defined with guitars. So it was in my blood.

Plus… I said, “Why Not?” Why would I place unnecessary boundaries on myself?

Many of your lyrics seemed geared for a mostly Black audience, but many of your supporting tours are with rock acts like Nine Inch Nails and The Mars Volta. Do those fans get your message at these concerts? Did you have any doubts playing with NIN?

People aren’t stupid. My stuff isn’t limited to Black People. White people listen to my music. They get that, and I hope that Black people get it too. The concerts have been great. Trent [Reznor] said that we got the best crowd response from any opening act that’s ever toured with Nine Inch Nails. That’s merchandise sales too. In fact, he’s producing my next album.

I was just gonna ask about that. When is the new album coming out?

We don’t know. We have to brainstorm and knock some things around. So I don’t know yet.

So let’s talk a little about the Dead Emcee Scrolls. Its your third book and it was published by MTV Books. We all know that MTV is the bastion of pop culture, for better or for worse, so how do you feel about that?

It’s something I’m very proud of. I’ve been a part of that family so to speak. MTV is the only place where I could concept a project from start to finish and they would be like… ”Ok. Great.” No questions asked or anything. That’s the ONLY place in corporate America where that has happened to me. I can’t say that for my first album. That didn’t come out the way that I wanted it to. I can’t even say that for Slam. Slam didn’t come out the way I wanted it to either.

So why do you think that Corporate America doesn’t get what you’re trying to do?

Not everyone who sits behind a desk is a visionary. I look at pop culture and find out ways to infiltrate it. They think that the stuff that sells is to imitate what is already out there. They don’t understand their audience. Look at Outkast and “Hey Ya!” If you told anyone outside that they would like this song, they would say “Hell NO!” I love that song. Everybody loved that song, but corporate America couldn’t get it at first.

Basically, people have been given a lot of shit that fills them up, but never nourishes them.

So you’ve been doing the music thing, as well as poetry and film. Which one do you like best?

I really love to perform, but writing for me is healing. It strengthens my resolve. Overall though, performance is my forte. In all of these methods the goal is to reach a part where you lose yourself. Where you’re so in the moment that you don’t even remember your name. The moment when you’re having passionate sex with your girl, where it’s more than you just “throwin’ it down”… it’s that sex where you have a connection, ya know? When you get lost in the moment. That’s what performance is for me.

What do you think about the term Afropunk? I know that’s the term that people use for when they see a black dude in rock music, but is that the term that you use to describe yourself?

People with an open mind is always a positive thing. Always. Labels help us identify things. I’m not mad at the Afropunk thing. I consider myself a part of it. I heard the term Afropunk at a party in Paris years before I saw the movie and I thought it was a joke at first. Someone was wearing that on a t-shirt man and I’m like, “okay, that’s cool.” I’m all for it.

So we have a standard question that we ask everyone. What are the top 10 songs that you’re rockin’ on your iPod, CD Player, 8 Track player, etc?

I’m diggin that She Wants Revenge album. I got that TV on the Radio joint. King, by T.I. I got Tennessee Slim is Da Bomb.

The Joi album….how is that?

It’s cool. I bought the new Cat Power, The Greatest but I haven’t listened to it yet.

Oh, and I got the new Van Hunt.

Well thank you for taking the time out to interview with us today.

It’s been a pleasure man, peace.

The Dead Emcee Scrolls is in bookstores now.

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