Saul Williams is an electrifying poet and a good songwriter. His music often can't keep up with his impassioned delivery, and he's too verbose and articulate for his poems to translate to songs as well as, say, Zack De La Rocha's. Like most spoken-word artists-turned musicians, Saul Williams is best appreciated in small doses.
This was until The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust!, first released over the internet in 2007. Credit producer and co-writer Trent Reznor for finally giving Williams the chops, beats and publicity that his lyrics deserve, and credit Williams for adapting poems from his book The Dead Emcee Scrolls into the most arresting poetry/rock crossover album since Patti Smith's Horses.
Niggy Tardust kicks in the door with "Black History Month." Over a rhythm somewhere between a hand clap and a chain gang, Williams asserts himself as the title character. Not surprisingly for someone name-checking rock n' roll's greatest identity switch, "Black History Month" is an unwieldy self-statement, sounding like Gil Scott-Jourgensen at Rockupy Wall Street. When he talks of landing "as the song in your ear or the book in your hand," it's understood that the two aren't mutually exclusive.
Why is this song called "Black History Month?" I don't know. But I'll keep listening.