interview with saul williams

exclusive feature
Bob The Janitor
The Liberator Magazine 4.1 #9, 2005


Every now and then, as a Journalist that looks at the world through a pair of Hip Hop tinted eyeglasses -- one that remembers the attempted banning of rap music, the critics saying that it was a phase that would not last -- you see every ripple. We have seen the part-emcee and the part-gangster, the conscious and the conscious-gangster. Now there is a new wave of emcees that are pushing the envelope of our culture and challenging it to continue to grow. The other day I got the opportunity to sit down with an emcee that will go down as a pioneer of Industrial-Punk Hop, as he refers to it. It is a mix of industrial metal guitar sounds, with a punk influence, that has a foundation in Hip Hop. I am blessed to introduce you to, or reacquaint you with, a poet and artist who I have a lot of respect for.

Liberator: What are you trying to accomplish with your new album?

Saul: Well there are two things I am trying to accomplish with the new album. On one hand, there's the messages within the music, which are primarily centered around self empowerment, realizing the power of the age you live in, the beauty of change and growth and the necessity of change and growth. So there is that. The other thing I am trying to accomplish with this album is to get my foot in the door, primarily for the opportunity to share my opinions with larger and larger groups of people.

Liberator: So how did your relationship with Rick Reuben help you with your growth and Change?

Saul: That was definitely an eye opening experience for me cause Rick is like an idol for me, you know. With the role he played in early day Hip Hop, I was highly intimidated initially and extremely naïve going into it, but it was an experience that was difficult but I grew a lot.

Liberator: How did you hook with Mars Volta?

Saul: I met Cedrick and Omar when they were "At The Drive In." Not at the drive in but they were a band called At The Drive In. We met in a music festival just outside of Paris and we checked each other out and became cool. Omar and I stayed in touch and that was when he considered doing the Mars Volta Album with Rick Reuben so he asked for some insight into that.

Liberator: Would you say that relationship had somewhat of an influence on the punk feel that we are getting on the new album?

Saul: Naw, I wouldn’t say that. You know, I recorded this album months before I heard the new Mars Volta. What influenced the sound was boredom, wanting to hear something different. It was something I was trying to accomplish with the Amethyst Rock Star album, and just achieving a particular sound. Not to just, like, stay fixed there but just claim it there. I had a lot of fun recording this new album with the first song that is called Grippo. For me that was the area I wanted to play in. I knew I needed it to be raw and up-tempo. It is so wonderful when you put together the raw and up-tempo. This is what I came up with.

Liberator: What role would you say Hip Hop played in the crafting of the album?

Saul: Hip Hop is the root of what I do. My whole appreciation for music, period, stems from my love of Hip Hop, my love of Hip Hop and the African American culture, you know. The only music I can Listen to without a Hip Hop ear and still admire are, like, blues and gospel. Everything else I listen to, I listen to it through a Hip Hop filter. IF I listen to, whatever, like, Bad Religion or Bad Brains for that matter, I am listening for breaks like, oh, did you here that break? I'm listening through a Hip Hop filter, so it is the root; it is the foundation for my appreciation for music. It was the first music that made me turn up the radio, the first music that made me wanna put on headphones, the music that made me wanna shut my door and dance. That was all Hip Hop.

Liberator: Your performance [at the CMJ music festival] in New York left me with the impression that you were frustrated with Hip Hop culture right now…

Saul: Truly overall there is just a lot about Hip Hop that I love that’s out there right now. My frustration is not the music, my frustration is with the community, or, even broader, the whole American Community. I feel that Hip Hop serves as a microcosm of that, so my critic of the people I often do through Hip Hop. Well, you know the main hindrance that has been in the way of any progressive movement, whether that be in Hip Hop or society, has to do with people excepting limited definitions of themselves. Once they do that they stop thinking of themselves imaginatively. The importance of imagination, the importance of branching out to other aspects inside of your self -- I am not talking about branching outside of yourself -- finding all the many aspects within side of your self that are there. This is important in the same way that I critique the American Government -- Bush's regime in particular. He says we must show no fear; show no weakness, we gotta show these terrorists that we mean business. I believe there is no strength more powerful then accepting one's own vulnerability. For many, vulnerability is seen as a weakness. To look at an individual and say "look, I am not all powerful. There is something that is in me that is all powerful." So in the same way I critique the American Government in saying it's okay to show signs of weakness, I criticize the emcees. We will gain the respect of other nations by bowing out graciously and saying "wow that hurt." In that same way, I pose that same critique to a lot of emcees. Where is your vulnerability? Don’t tell me you are keeping it real if I can’t feel your humanity. Over time, since like Pac and all that, a lot of the Hip Hop game has been getting more real, but in a lot of ways it has not. I have never seen an emcee break down and cry in the middle of his verse. Until then, I will probably still critique Hip Hop because I have been trying to write that song for the longest that would make me break down and cry in the middle of it -- that's it, you know? You really gotta make it raw and vulnerable. We need that. We need that emotion, while every emcee out right now is trying to show who can be the most heartless. "I'm heartless son, I'm heartless." I don’t have time for heartless. I am trying to, like, chill with god.

Liberator: So if you had to categorize your music what would you call it?

Saul: I call it now -- N - O - W. That’s what I would call it. N - O - W.

Liberator: How do you think Bush getting reelected will affect American individuals traveling abroad?

Saul: As individuals, traveling abroad is an interesting thing right now and through the anti-war movement a lot of people were beginning to believe that yeah, "Bush is messed up, but the American people are going to help us out here. They are not going to let him do his dirty work." But now that it has been condoned, I think a lot of the world is like oh, "maybe the American people are not where I thought they were." Even, like, here most of the people I encountered were heartbroken that bush got re-elected. Americans have that same feeling like "oh my god I didn’t know I lived in such a messed up country where I didn’t know that bigotry and imperialistic values were still alive here." It's like the people are torn half-and-half. It is like Bush is setting us up for the next civil war but this time it will be the youth against the adults because 56 percent of the youth vote was for Kerry. The only groups that came in strong were children and women, for Kerry -- the wisest people on the planet. The men won this time. "Stupid," as Michael Moore would say, "white men" and when their kids voted republican, they won. Kids have to realize that they have to question what their parents say to them. These are the same people that tell us wisdom comes with age -- I saw old white men with water hoses in old civil rights footage. Wisdom doesn’t come with age in this country: wisdom comes with youthfulness -- the staying young at heart.

Liberator: Thanks

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