So, I just downloaded the new Saul Williams album. Yes, you heard me correctly, I downloaded that shit. Been bumping it all day. Not completely sure about how I feel about it as a whole because as anyone who listens to Saul or has peeped some of his stuff would know, for every time he makes you say “Oh Shit!” he makes you go “What The Fuck?” moments later.
But, one thing that I can say is that Saul has easily delivered the dopest music listening experience I’ve had in a long time.
A couple of years ago everybody made a big deal about Kanye West splitting production duties on Late Registration with Jon Brion. I found it interesting that most of the crowd going ga-ga-goo-goo over that arrangement was made up of people that either did not know who Kanye West was or didn’t even know who the fuck Jon Brion was or what he did to all of a sudden have folks saying shit “oh my God! Two musical geniuses have united!” It seemed like everybody was just impressed that this “Hip Hop” (i.e. Black) guy was working on an album with a “musical intellect” (i.e. White) guy not named Rick Rubin, oh well. The album turned out dope, so I guess it was a big deal.
Anyways, when I found out that Saul Williams was hooking up with Trent Reznor for this The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust album, I was instantly intrigued. One, because I knew that with a writer like Saul, that title was actually going to have a meaning and concept behind it, unlike that misguided Nigger who swears that Hip Hop Is Dead. Two, because I knew that a collaboration between Williams and Reznor was going to be a complete package where many genres of music and forms of art would be meshed together to sound and look like something new. (Think: Bomb Squad hooking up with Cube for Amerikkka’s Most Wanted with Gordon Parks and Mark Texira handling the art direction.) Plus, after having the opportunity to see Saul perform (and create) music live on stage with a DJ and beat machine, I just knew the thought of him being on stage with dude was gonna be dope if I ever got to see it for myself.
The theme behind Niggy Tardust borrows from an old David Bowie album, The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust. Tardust is an alter ego who I think is supposed to be an enlightened, disenchanted artist who seeks to combat all of the smut, violence and destruction that major record labels peddle through Hip Hop music (he wears the rings of Saturn around his neck instead of diamonds) and each song is supposed to represent a different stage of his fight. I could be wrong though.
For the most part this album did not disappoint. Niggy Tardust, as an album, product and concept contains alot of what more Hip Hop artists should be copying off of right now.
At times it has a damn near flawless fusion of Hip Hop, Rock and Electronic music where the tracks don’t sound forced or blatant. It doesn’t have moments where you could tell that someone in the studio said “hey, lets add some guitars and screaming to give it a ‘rock’ feel, you know, to remind people that a rock producer is behind this.” Plus, from listening you can tell that the artist himself has respect for Rock music elements and isn’t just rapping over guitars not knowing the difference between Nirvana and Foo Fighters.
Lyrically, it has lines that you have to think about every time you hear them. Especially on songs like “DNA” and “Tr(n)igger” which samples “Welcome To the Terrordome.” But, when I say “think about” it ain’t necessarily because all of the rhymes are just “deep,” because shied, at times Williams is either indecipherable or simply sounds caught up in some of his words like how Kurupt (perhaps the originator of the “Oh Shit!” vs. “What The Fuck?” battle) did and still does sometimes. But in a time where alot rappers rap slow, fragmented and simple in fear of going over the kiddies’ heads, its cool to Williams take the Bishop Lamont route and say “if you don’t get it, get a fucking translator!” (and in case you are wondering, no, I did not just call Williams a rapper)
Another thing I appreciate about this release is that its kinda like the Hip Hop version of Radiohead’s In Rainbows. You know, that album where the band released it directly through the internet and let the fans decide how much they wanted to pay for it. Yeah, the one Jay Smooth was talking about.
With Niggy Tardust you have the option of either downloading it for free or dropping a $5 donation (I went on ahead and dropped some change). What makes this idea dope is that when you download it, you are actually getting an album, not a mixtape. Which means you’re getting original production and artwork. Kinda like what DJ Skee and Bishop did with Nigger Noize, but more elaborate.
Speaking of the artwork, Williams and Reznor satisfy both the downloaders who don’t seem to care about having a CD booklet and those of us who still like to flip and read lyrics and credits as we digest the music. When you download the album it comes with a PDF featuring different pieces of visual art with what seems to be Williams’ handwritten lyrics on them, so you can sit at the computer and look as you listen. Not as grand as the campaign Reznor had for his Year Zero project, but dope nonetheless.
So far, I think Niggy Tardust is the best listening experience I’ve had all year. The product itself intrigued me and knowing that Williams is going to be touring and performing in character with a stage set up to match motivates me to drop $5 and some to see him live. Plus, its nice to see an artist actually execute a theme through and through unlike some of the examples my fellow blogger Noz pointed out not too long ago.
p.s.-by the time that I finished writing this and typing this sentence, I listened to the album about 3-4 times. I noticed that if you listen to the album in reverse order, it tells a story too. Dope.