Defining himself only as an ‘artist’, Saul Williams defies any real categorisation. Dabbling in poetry, screen writing, acting and hip-hop, Saul is an individual who has challenged the boundaries between different art forms, presenting a strong critique of modern day society through overtly political lyrics and thought-provoking poetry. Over the last fifteen years Saul has emerged as a revolutionary character, having plenty to say on current issues such as the War on Terror and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, as well as relating his own experiences growing up in the aftermath of the US Apartheid.
Whilst studying philosophy at degree level, Saul became a popular face at New York open-mic nights and poetry slams. Claiming that poetry is the most direct way of relating his emotions and thoughts, Saul fuses his fast paced, tongue-twisting poems with issues of government control and the prominence of the media, to create a dynamic insight into 21st Century life and encouraging his audience to question their own realities and beliefs. The work of Saul Williams has redefined spoken-word poetry. A performer as much as he is an orator, his energetic physical performance supports an impressively articulate command of the English language. In the mid-90s Saul was one of four spoken-word poets who represented New York in the final of the US National Poetry Slam competition, which was documented in the film ‘Slamnation’. Saul’s prominence in the New York slam scene led to a leading role in the award-winning 1998 film, ‘Slam’, an independent production which narrates the pressures of being a poet and aspiring rapper in an environment of drugs and violence.
Despite his popularity as a spoken word poet, Saul recently declared in a blog to Oprah Winfrey that ‘Hip Hop had informed my love of poetry as much or even more than my theatre background which had exposed me to Shakespeare, Baraka, Fugard, Genet, Hansberry’. A self-confessed ‘conscious’ MC, Saul has used the medium of music to relate his politically astute observations and groups himself with the likes of The Fugees and Gangstarr. Saul was approached by music producer Rick Rubin, linked to innovative acts such as Beastie Boys and System of a Down, after Saul’s appearance in ‘Slam’. Since 2000 Saul has produced six albums and EPs, featuring renowned artists such as popular rapper Nas and Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. Saul’s latest album, his self-titled collaboration with Trent Reznor, released in 2004, was available for free, as a non-conformist gesture that aimed to provide music for enjoyment rather than for economic gain, an act that has been mimicked by many artists, such as Radiohead, since. Saul’s poetic abilities endorse his music, with frenzied lyrics combined with catchy riffs and energetic drums to create innovative music that somehow, like Saul himself, evades categorisation into any definite genre.
Whether he is acting, rapping, or writing, Saul Williams is a contemporary figure whose presence is undeniably refreshing, providing an alternate view on modern life and society. In the words of Saul himself, ‘there’s nothing more powerful than an idea, who’s time, has come’.