by Andrew Matson & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & S & lt;/span & aul Williams, like Mos Def in his (sadly) fleeted salad days, is an emcee who does more than rap. Four albums and as many books testify to Williams' gift with the written word; his blistering printed output is heralded for historically informed and politically progressive messages, though it will matter more to history for Williams' mastery of -- via font, type size and white space -- capturing sound in visual form. Film auteur (indie favorite Slam), author, superb live orator and maker of spoken word/experimental hip-hop albums, Saul Williams is unfairly multitalented, but academic posturing -- mixed with near-crippling self-consciousness -- mean that Williams gets meta as a matter of course: everything is both art and commentary upon art.
That duality not only gets white people excited -- as if black, let alone hip-hop, self-awareness is proof "we" have finally civilized the "savages" -- but places undue responsibility on Williams to act like an American with split citizenship. He's not an E-tarded Ying Yang Twin, right? Oh, so he must be a super-genius Tavis Smiley, Mos Def, Cornel West, Sammy Davis Jr. type. You
know, one of the good ones. I mean great ones.
To his credit, he understands this perceived place and plays it for as much commentary value (on both sides of the color divide) as possible: "I gave hip-hop to white boys when nobody was looking," he raps on "Grippo." "Found it locked in a basement when they gentrified Brooklyn ... Right or wrong, I think hip-hop is where it belongs."
While I concur with the masses that Saul Williams is smart, eloquent and black, though, I'm loathe to burden Inlander readers with yet another explanation of his renaissance versatility. Instead, let's celebrate Saul Williams for what he really is: a bad-ass emcee. Say what you want about the intellectual topics within his rhetorical repertoire, he sounds most convincing behind the pen of lines like "Don't mean to call your bluff, but mothaf---a, that's what I do. / You got platinum chain? Then, son, I'm probably talking to you."
Basically, what the bourgeoisie calls critical theory, rap heads know as battling, an act that requires athletic feats of cleverness more than book smarts, aggressive shows of virtuosity more than smug arrogance. Saul Williams is thrilling to read, hear and see because he's capable of uncorking devastating indictments at will. The McMedia of the world needs another warm, fuzzy Mos Def to "save" the streetwise scholar archetype, but Williams is not that guy. He's toodangerous.
Saul Williams at SFCC's Music Auditorium, Bldg. 15, on Friday, Jan. 26, at 7:30. Tickets: $8; $5, students. Visit www.ticketswest.com or call 325-SEAT.