I jumped on the opportunity to interview our modern day wordsmith hero, Saul Williams, when he was in Colorado in support of his new book, “Said The Shot To The Head”, speaking to the crowd and performing his poetic artistry in the intimate setting of Jack Quinn’s in Colorado Springs. I could try to describe the intricacies of this man, but you really are better off just reading along…
KAFFEINE BUZZ: When did you first start writing and speaking out publicly?
SAUL WILLIAMS: Well, I started as a young kid. My father was pastor in a Baptist church. I grew up in the eighties and they would have a lot of just say no drug rallies, and they used to have them at my dad’s church. I was an MC at the time, and my father was like, “Well, you want to perform in front of 1,200 people? Write a rhyme about why you shouldn’t smoke crack or do drugs, and I’ll let you perform at the rally this Saturday,” and so I did.
KB: Explain Not In Our Name to the average person on the street.
SW: The Not In Our Name initiative simply states that there are many Americans do not agree with foreign/domestic policy, and with the way such policies are handled in the name of American citizens…the people in other countries need to realize that many of us do not agree with the way our so-called “leaders” are acting out – it states that we do not condone the atrocities occurring in other countries in our name.
KB: How does it feel to be included in the curriculum of more and more schools everyday?
SW: It feels good, because I wrote my first poem, “Amethyst Roc”… I started it on a day when I became very frustrated in a Shakespeare class in grad school because here I was in this class…I love Shakespeare, always have, and first acted in a school production of Julius Caesar when I was 9. Yet I would get very upset in my Shakespeare class because the teacher seemed to act as though, ‘No one would ever again create like he has.’ But I would bring in Rakim lyrics and Pharoh Monch lyrics, and try to prove that new forms of timbre and stanza had been created within the art form of hip-hop. Now the academics have to go back and study this…they can learn from hip-hop, you know? And spoken word is bringing that out in people. People are beginning to believe that, ‘Yeah, my story is important, too,’ and it’s bringing the attention around, calling the new world into order, much more than any legislation could do.
KB: Speaking of legislation, do you have any particular view on who should be the next president, or how it should be handled? I mean, if Bush isn’t an option, than what is?
SW: Good question. Really, I’m hoping that Hillary (Clinton) will step up and take the stage, you know. That would make me really happy. What’s really scaring me is that Bush might get re-elected. But to be honest, I was excited to hear that Bush got elected even though I didn’t vote for him, because it’s like…when you have a pimple, and you keep putting shit on it, and eventually you get a whitehead, and then you know that it will be gone soon. Bush is like THE whitehead of all of the racism and colonialism and imperialism that the underbelly of America has stood for. It’s only a matter of time before all of that goes away. To take that example even further, when that pimple explodes there is blood. We live in a day and age where the powers that be are starting to take more of a back seat to the powers of being, and Americans are starting to realize that.
KB: So what was the inspiration for the new book “Said The Shotgun To The Head?”
SW: There’s a passage in it that goes, “The greatest Americans have not been born yet/ They are waiting patiently for the past to die/Please give blood.” The book is an epic poem in the voice of a man who is like a modern day John the Baptist that’s telling of the coming of a female messiah. The book was inspired by my own process of writing, which sometimes means, I just start and no matter how long it takes, I wait until it starts to make sense to me. That first page of the book existed alone for six months to a year before I added anything to it, and I knew that I didn’t know exactly what it was, but that it was the start of something really cool.
KB: So about the DJ projects, the collaboration with Spooky doesn’t surprise me at all having read his works and listening to his music. But what does surprise me is Coldcut – he doesn’t exactly come off as the political type. What brought that on?
SW: You know it’s funny. Sometimes I underestimate myself a lot, and when I wrote these anti-war songs, I gave them to the N.I.O.N. people and told them to do with them, as they will, that the songs were theirs. We approached NinjaTune, which seemed to be the coolest label we could put it out on…and the thing is, Tony Blair and Bush did something amazing – they woke us up, and made a lot of people who normally wouldn’t be very politicized step back and say, ‘Wait a minute, this is really fucked up…’
KB: What do you think about the media’s irresponsibility with its relationship to the public, and being that MTV is a part of that media, what about the role they play in publishing your book?
SW: MTV used to be much racier, like the big middle finger up to the rest of the media…they approached me for the book, well actually for my last book, S\He, and it’s like they’ve done their job in decreasing the attention span of the American public. And then there’s me. I have always believed that art in its strongest form is a way to manipulate the media. I’m not compelled to support the underground, I believe in taking over the mainstream, you know, I want the truth to be the mainstream. MTV was the only facet of that media that I knew wouldn’t touch a word I said…and the thing is, I want the demographic, and there’s no other way I can think of to reach it, no easier way. Anyway, it’s worked out totally fine…for me right now, it’s about reaching people, and that’s happening, more and more everyday…to succeed in this day and age, we need to learn to manipulate the media, which is possible to do positively.
KB: What about hip-hop – what are you listening to, what’s coming up in your world?
SW: I love Outkast…I dig Aesop Rock too, ‘Life’s not a bitch, she’s a beautiful woman, you just think she’s a bitch ’cause she won’t give you the pussy.’ That’s a smart guy…
KB: What would you cite as your greatest artistic influence?
SW: Music, and the continual artistic/political evolution of African Americans…Jazz…James Brown. “The Funky Drummer”, when James goes ‘On the count of three, 1,2,3 hit it.’ It’s just amazing that he could appreciate that in ’72…Jimi Hendrix, that guy could make music with just feedback, just by measuring the sound waves, to the point where the fuzz from his guitar just becomes beautiful. His lyrics that were written just before he died, “Man, I’ve been Jesus Christ, 30 Twice”, I can only imagine what that means.
KB: Ever consider running for President?
SW: No comment.
Well, that’s that. I hope that gave you a little insight into the latest with Saul Williams. He’s got a new book out, an epic poem called “Said The Shotgun To The Head”, along with a fresh new CD for the Not In Our Name project on NinjaTune. It includes several remixes by Spooky, Coldcut, and DJ Goo, along with the original “Not In Our Name” speech and a video. If you are among the open-minded, you should check it out, and if not, just relax. Everything’s going to be just fine.