Saul Williams is undeniably a teacher with much wisdom to share. A modern renaissance man harnessing his talents as a musician, poet, and actor, delivering more substantial and engaging content to his fans worldwide. Along with a graphic novel that will be soon published, Williams is about to embark on his global tour for ‘Martyr Loser King’ and took the time to call between rehearsals so he could school us about everything from creating music for activists, to having a dance party with Prince.

 Artwork: Patrick (Paco) May

There is a lot going on in the world these days, what was the last thing that made you say ‘wow’?

The death of Tupac’s mother Afeni Shakur. That kind of shook me, especially since it came so close after Prince’s death which also had me in a state of ‘wow’, in terms of all the amazing voices that are moving ahead this year. It’s kind of crazy.

Prince once said at an award show, ‘Like Books, and Black Lives, Albums still matter’. Do you agree with that now that you have your new album ‘Martyr Loser King’?

I never bought into the fear when people go into momentary lapses and think stuff like ‘we can only need to sell singles now’, or however that works based the excitement in the market at any given time. Or 10 years ago, people thinking we all have to use the pay scale model online with streaming. But what I find with so much music available, there are also a lot more ears interested in an experience. And I think music, like design, is experiential. And so, on one hand you can have music that fits into the pop format, the Macklemore’s and the Top 40. But on the other hand, look at the rise of vinyl right now. That speaks directly to the fact that people are also interested in having an experience with an album, like a film or a novel. And to me, that’s always been part of the allure of an album is that it can have a that same sort of experience like when you go to a movie theater and everything goes black and you sit facing one direction as light comes from the screen. Or as you curl up with a book, an album is always going to have that strength. And people who don’t experience that, it’s more like their own loss, or the artists’ loss, who doesn’t invest in being able to deliver that experience. It’s really a beautiful thing. I’ve never had a fear of it disappearing though, but it’s true that things of popularity go in cycles.

Martîn Adan wrote in his book, The Cardboard House ‘Is it sane to become lyrical when life turns ugly?’ What’s your take on this?

Lyricism in those regards is not an attempt to by lyrical. It is a way of seeing things. It’s a way of placing things, placing words, and arranging/aligning/expressing thoughts, ideas, and the ideology behind them.

My so-called lyricism is often punctuated by a lot of ‘Fuck That’, and ‘motherfuckers’, and middle fingers, and the whole nine. But I think, the goal of lyricism, in my case at least, is to not only present ideas that people have like ‘speak truth to power’, but I’m looking at lyricism as coding. I’m looking for an algorithm. I’m looking to streamline ideas and be able to express them in ways that speak to directly to the core and essence of something that we all already know and that we are already connected to. That allows us to go ‘Fuck Yeah!’or ‘Fuck this Shit.’ I’m trying to push buttons at times, and when things turn so ugly, that becomes crucial. It becomes urgent to be able to speak right to the core of something. To be able to shape words or ideas into lance-like bullets that punctures and punctuates a moment, that can inspire or insight something in someone. And allows them to flip that switch and go, ‘You know what? This is bullshit. What the fuck am I participating in? What the fuck is going on here?’

MLK-handwritten-web-23Handwritten Lyrics from Martyr Loser King

 

I think trying to do that is very admirable.

Well to me, it’s not so much that. It’s more like, ‘What the fuck else is there to do?’ You use your talents for what is in front of you. These are the times that I live in. And this is what is fun to me. I enjoy the things that I lean towards; the things that I love in language, and the exploration of beauty in sound. These things speak to me. They are the light in the face of all the bullshit that is going on.

It seems like the world needs Saul Williams now, and the album seems to fit very appropriately in our present situation. You’re not only gaining traction in your music and poetry, but as a voice for the nation, whether you’re speaking openly about politics or releasing artwork on your blog.

 

I used to have that experience with Radiohead and Bjork where I really felt like their shit came out at times right when I really needed it. But it’s always been my intention to speak to a much broader audience. I always felt that I was more than the things that allotted me. I look at someone like James Franco, who is now releasing books of poetry and novels, and trying to do art films. He is trying to make sense of the privilege that has been afforded to him by his position as a movie star. And I think of the choices I had when ‘Slam’ came out. What else was there really to do? Either I was going to jump into this thing where I studied to be an actor so now I’m willing to take all the opportunities that come up to play a doctor or a lawyer on TV, and really acting is just a 9-5 so I should take those roles and shut up. Or, have some fucking fun. And my goal has been quite simple; I am trying to fuel something that is already happening. Something that is already moving in a particular direction. But I feel like activists, and all these people, need something to listen to as well. Shit that inspires them. They need to know that there are artists that are engaged and thinking on perhaps some of the terms they are thinking in. And that is important for me, since I grew up inspired by artists like that.saul3

Speaking of having fun and artists that inspired you… Don’t you have a crazy Prince story?

I was friends with Prince’s DJ, DJ Rashida. She and I had a band together before ‘Niggy Tardust’. We never released anything but we were rehearsing a lot. She called me one night at 1AM and was like, ‘Prince is having a party and wanted me to invite you.’ So I go and I get there, and no one is there. It’s just Prince, Penelope Cruz, Rashida, and a few people I brought with me. And that was it. So it was like six of us dancing in a circle for like 2 hours. And then Prince comes up to me and is like, ‘So Saul, when are you going to come to my house so we can talk about how we are going to change world with music?’[Saul has a flawless Prince impersonation] And of course I’m like, ‘Yo! Whenever!’

And so I got a call a month or so later saying he wanted me to come over for dinner that night if I was free. And I did. And we were supposed to talk about how to change the world through music, but once he picked up his guitar…It was like he changed my world. Because now I got to sit a foot away from Prince watching him play his guitar in his living room.

I know you’ve been doing a lot of interviews, but they seem to be using pull-quotes that don’t make any sense for the title. I thought maybe we could collaborate on this. I was thinking ‘Class Dismissed’ as a pun for you dropping knowledge on me and if we got to a conversation about inequality.

I like that, I like that. Otherwise I would say, ‘Keep Christiania Free’.

 

THIS INTERVIEW WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN BITCHSLAP MAGAZINE ISSUE 26