Saul Williams Amethyst Rock Star

Poet, spoken word artist, actor and general all-round multi-tasking intellectual, Saul Williams served notice with teasers on a number of compilations that his eventual full-length would demand complete and undivided attention, and Amethyst Rock Star does just that. In between his lead role in the acclaimed film Slam and penning the provocative liner notes to D'Angelo's Voodoo, attention to Williams has rightfully increased. He's a magnetic performer that knows and exploits the power of words, drawing on literature, philosophy and his deep love for hip-hop explicitly in his work. Ironically, it's Williams' palpable dissatisfaction with rap music's wavering from hip-hop's cultural foundation that fuels this release. "Penny For A Thought" suggests that the art form has devolved into neo-colonialism, exhorts "b-boys" to be men and ends with Williams performing an exorcism on the keep it steel-ism. A disciple of the culture's early days, Williams valorises and references '80s icons like Rakim, Slick Rick and EPMD, and his recruiting of Rick Rubin, known among other things for his association with the rise of Def Jam, as co-producer underlines this. Huge crashing beats accompanied by guitars and violins figure prominently, but Williams' "Coded Language" drum & bass collaboration with Reprazent's DJ Krust emerges as an important touchstone. Williams seemingly draws on the skittery drum patterns of a musical descendent of hip-hop to push it forward. After all, it's evident that Williams feels rap music settles for reifying the status quo and he uses his soundscapes to practice his own interpretation of hip-hop culture's innate nature to flip the script. On "Fearless," he radically incorporates and overhauls Michael Jackson's "She's Out Of My Life," plays around with the American national anthem, "Om Nia American," and on "Our Father," (featuring a recording of his father Rev. Saul Williams delivering a sermon to a congregation), he delivers his own stunning interpretation of the prayer of the same name. Truly captivating, Amethyst Rock Star provides revelatory insights on every listen. However, it can be debated whether Williams' mining of drum & bass influences are as potent as it would have been a few years ago, and if his stance on hip-hop is an unfair blanket statement, but it is intended to provoke debate and provide a singular compelling vision of where a stern application of hip-hop's cultural values can lead. (Columbia)