The HIP-HOP PURIST: Niggy Tardust—Brother From Another Planet

I am not a fan of slam poetry.
I am not a fan of slam poetry.
I am not a fan… of slam poe-treeeeeee.

What is so funny is that I used to write poetry, before these candle-burning, finger-snapping Love Jones clones decided they could write poetry too.

But I got sick of the sugary drivel used to illicit offers of sex from the audience. A poem is supposed to be about your insides being displayed through your voice. Most of the stuff I heard at readings I used to participate in was trite at best.

The black power “readers of scripts,” vying for who is the “most down” with their weak attempts at writing, were a breath of fresh air compared to the hormonal attempts at defining what love really is from souls indoctrinated by years of R&B.

Needless to say, I stopped writing poetry. I looked at my old stuff as being just as banal as the people I criticized. I was not looking deeply enough into myself. I did not want to be one of “them.” So when Saul Williams was crowned king of the capri pants and sandals subculture, I ignored him. I ignored his albums. I ignored the movie “Slam.” I even ignored when he guest-emceed on other people’s songs.

I now see that was a mistake.

I downloaded “The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust” off the recommendation of a coworker. I liked how they were distributing the album (only electronically over the net with a .pdf version of liner notes – similar to Radiohead). Initially, I was not impressed because Saul was associated with it, along with the fact that there is a lot of singing and I would not consider some of the beats “hip hop.” Then I gave him a chance.

The first three tracks were on HEAVY rotation in my car for at least 3 months. “Black History Month” is a fitting intro to the album. The industrial Trent Reznor beat is hypnotic and Saul’s tribute to the muse with his first words – “Can you feel it/ nothing can save ya,” pays respect to hip hop in general. The production and hook (“The banana peels are carefully placed / so keep your shell toes carefully laced”) gets you amped. The beat breaks down to only Saul’s voice saying “Turn up the bay-bass!” towards the end. He then gives his version of the origin of hip hop, ending it with “Let these suckas know the cost of making Harriet run / Let the North Star be your guiding post when turned from the sun / Until knowledge reigns supreme over nearly everyone!”

The production on the second track is friggin’ insane. Saul sings on “Convict Colony” to a beat too beautiful to describe with words. When I say beautiful, I am not talking about pretty. I am talking about vividly and explosively exceptional. You know, the beauty that is the goal of all artistic (and dare I say human) expression. If you know what a convict colony is, the lyrics are easy to understand.

The 3rd track is the stand-out piece to me. What’s so crazy is the beat is just a loop. Well, I shouldn’t say that, because it is a Public Enemy loop (I wonder how much they charged for the sample?). If you don’t know about the song “Welcome to the Terrordome,” you should learn about it. “Tr(n)igga” is the reason I arrive at work sweating, with my voice on the verge of being hoarse. I really should not listen to that song in my car. In the second verse, Saul asks “Would Jesus Christ come back American? / What if he’s Iraqi and here again?”

I instantly think of all the people who ignore all the scriptures of Jesus that emphasize peace and love to memorize the fire and brimstone intolerance of P(S)aul (eerie, ain’t it?). The beat then goes into a muffled bass line and Saul is again interrogative: “What do you teach your children about me? What do you teach your little children about me? Pimp? Thug? Bling druglord of the underground decay? How can you be so sure I won’t call down the rain?”

The beat comes back and Saul gets more forceful with his interrogation. This is where I start screaming the hook along with him. It never fails. I think I am the target audience for this song. Other stand out songs are “WTF” (the beat breaks down nicely), “Raised To Be Lowered,” “Skin Of a Drum,” “Niggy Tardust” and “DNA.” Although he is not “rapping” on most of the songs, the lyrics are on point.

This album is not available in stores, so you have to download it to hear it (it costs 5$). My endorsement of this album means more because I did not want to like it initially. I now have to convince myself not to listen to it.

And oh — one day in Wal-Mart, I saw “Slam” on sale. I bought it. I liked it.

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