Saul Williams: Word

Saul Williams"Penny for a thought"

He got your attention in SLAM two years ago and now the new album Amethyst Rockstar is about to happen. BLU does Q&A with Saul Williams, the world's #1 guerrilla of the word.

In this issue we're focusing on Global Guerrillas--people who fight in creative or unusual ways from a community base. Can you talk about the power of the spoken word in that context? I hear you. I'm just gonna say: Word. It's not the spoken word, not even poetry. It breaks down very, very simply: we are all per-sons which means, 'beings of sound.' That's what person means--that what we say matters.

If you're gonna talk about global guerrillas, Fela is someone who used his music to combat all the nonsense that was happening and not only in his country but in African mind states globally. Fela and Jimi Hendrix both believed that in the day and age in which we're now living music would become of the utmost importance, would take the place of churches and political institutions.

The people that are famous in this day and age are MCs, singers--there are no famous philosophers, there are no famous politicians. You talk to a high school student today they're gonna spout the philosophy of a Fiona Apple, an Ani Difranco, a Jay-Z, a Tupac.

Look at what the Beatles and James Brown and these cats were doing in the 60s and 70s. John Lennon was like, "Woman is the nigger of the world..." That shit had mother-fuckers opened, thinking in new ways. There is nothing more powerful on this planet right now for combating ignorance or violent mind states than hip hop. Not how hip hop is being used, but the power that hip hop has.

The power of hip hop is that there's never been a more popular music. That has a lot to do with technology and the fact that there's just more music, more boxes, there's never been a louder art form. Also, the fact that it's done in a way so that it sounds as if it's straight up talking. The reason we think Jay-Z or Eminem are dope MCs is because they can line as if they're having a conversation and it just happens to rhyme, as opposed to just saying shit for the rhyme. And that just goes straight through your subconscious and affects you there. It's ludicrous for me to speak of, 'the power of the Spoken Word' or some shit. I'm no fuckin 'spoken word' artist. I'm just someone who realizes the power of Word. Period. And not just the shit that I write and say on stage. In every given moment of our lives what we say matters! Meaning becomes matter. You make shit real. We call things into existence.

Actually it's dangerous, you know? Biggie's album was called, Ready to Die. That's why the nigger's dead. It's very simple: What you say matters. We say it in hip hop all the time--WORD UP! Word Is Bond. In the Bible it says, "In the beginning was the Word. And God said 'let there be light.'" And then there was. Said it--not thought it, not wrote it down, not sung about it, said it, and that's calling shit into existence. We are all creators and we create through what we say and how we make what we say real. There is no other way to affect consciousness than through Word.

So what needs to be affected? The mind states of everybody that's been infected by the type of hip hop that's around right now. MCs don't want cats to know more than their name. They have the world there and they'd have these cats saying, "What's my mother-fucking name?" Every young person on the planet at this point, whether they're white, Asian, whatever, they're all tuning into this shit and you're tuning in to a fuckin' virus that's been totally infected. Hip hop is the only music that has not made the change. You listen to alternative rock and everything is focusing on upping the ante artistically. Hip hop ain't done that as of yet. We're starting to.

There is no other message that needs to be relayed. Watch what you say, especially into a microphone! A microphone increases sound vibrations. So if you're putting out some crazy shit in a microphone, that's not only gonna affect the realities of those that listen to it, but it's gonna increase the effect of the reality of the effect it's gonna have on you, whoever is gonna be putting that out there. It's a boomerang effect. Always.

Would the same hold true for politicians? Yeah, but you gotta realize MTV has a larger demographic than CNN. I repeat, there's nothing more powerful than hip hop. You put Jesse Jackson next to fuckin any MC and people will tune into that MC before they'll tune into Jesse Jackson and that's a fuckin shame cause Jesse Jackson has more stuff to say and has a better cadence and a better flow and a better rhyme style too. When you rhyme you get people's attention and if you have all the peoples' attention and all you can do with that is say, "Yo, put yo' hands up," you just fuckin wasted that fuckin moment! You wasted it! Do you realize what you could have done?

Public Enemy realizes that shit. The ideal global guerrilla, in my point of view, would be an MC who realizes the power of MCing. I keep using the Public Enemy example cause it works, but when Public Enemy did their world tour, that was when hip hop became known as the music of the youth rebellion. And that was just the beginning of how hip hop could be used to empower mind states and to change the hands of power, not just nationally but globally. Cause unlike Common and Mos Def and all that shit, their music wasn't for the Black Bohemian progressive thought. I was living in New York at that time and the drug dealers blasted Public Enemy cause that was the hardest shit you could blast. It wasn't just for college and coffee shop chicks. It was common sense. It's a shame the fuckin truth gets relegated to a coffee shop. You know? Is there a middle ground between a perpetual series of poetry readings on the one hand and iced out aggression on the other?

Hell yeah. It's coming. Victor Hugo said, "There's nothing more powerful than an idea who's time is come." And the time is definitely come. Artists like Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill have been building the bridge that's going to allow us to go to that place. It's not only about being conscious--I don't wanna hear no preachy shit over no wack-ass beat. It's about uplifting what is artistry.

I wrote in D'Angelo's liner notes that I believe in art as it exists in the phase, "Thou art God"--art that connects you to your highest consciousness: God. If you become extremely creative it's going to be conscious. De La Soul hardly preached about anything, they were making jokes half the time, but you have a strong idea about what they believe in because they rhyme from their guts and they never, never go back on their belief.

There's a lot of debate on what qualifies as 'conscious'--what about mainstream artists talking a lot in terms of their struggle? I don't give a fuck about no more rags-to-riches story anymore. That stuff is some old American shit. You were poor once; you're not anymore. Great. And now all your money's clean. That's great. It's now legal money. Good. It's like Jesus said, "Give unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto me what is mine." I'm not Christian, but that was an extremely profound thing. Another poet, Rumi, said, "You should work as much in the visible world as you do in the invisible world." To be tripping over the fact that you're making all this money legally and it's fuckin infecting mind states while you're doing that--so what if the government allows it? Do you think that the laws of Nature will allow that to last for long?

But none of those other people, whether it's Jay-Z or DMX, are selling as many albums as Lauryn. It's just a matter of timeliness, because the highest selling hip hop albums still are the ones with like...

Eminem. Yeah, but that's talent. People can say what they want, but just in spending the amount of time that he must spend writing, that is paying dues. And look at his fuckin album cover! He's sitting there with a pen and a pad. Not a glock. What the fuck can you write with a glock? You can't write shit with no fuckin Bentley. Regardless of what he believes in and what he says--and you know he's going through inner turmoil and the whole nine--you can't deny the fact that the cat is talented, and then it becomes a matter of using that talent and pointing it in a direction that uplifts, like Bob Marley did. You can choose what you want to do. You can have great sales, and that'll be great, or you can be a fuckin legend. The consciousness of humankind itself--that's what Bob Marley did. And that's what I'm waiting to see and that's what I'm working toward.

From the upcoming album Amethyst Rockstar produced by Musa Bailey and Saul Williams for Saxu/American/Columbia Records Publishing/Warner-Chappell Publishing

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