Saul Williams has a lot to say and a lot that he wants to be heard. Whether he talks or raps about hip-hop, politics, life, or the importance of song lyricism, Williams' words have an impact on people.
ASP Civil Controversy presents Saul Williams Monday, June 4 at 7 p.m. in the Viking Union Multipurpose room. This is a student only free event.
Saul Williams is a poet, rapper, musician, singer, songwriter, actor, and a figurehead in the spoken word movement. He is best known for his signature style of combining spoken word with hip-hop that often carries a politicized, deeply philosophied message.
Williams made his acting debut in the film Slam in 1998. The film helped bring to light the slam poetry movement that had been gaining momentum in the United States for years. In the film, Williams plays the part of Ray Josuha, a talented MC who feels trapped in a housing project and uncertain of how to overcome his surroundings.
The film, having won several awards, including the Grand Jury Prize for the Sundance Film Festival, not only helped popularize the slam poetry movement, but also accelerated Saul Williams' career. He had already made a name for himself on the poetry circuit in New York, but with the success of Slam his name recognition became more international. Around the same time, Williams began collaborating with musicians.
Williams grew up in Newburgh, New York, a city that has one of the nation's highest crime rates, although the numbers have been dropping, according to the Sullivan County PBA from the Times-Herald Record. His parents always encouraged him to follow other paths than those that some of his peers had followed, according to Williams' bio on his web site.
He went to college, graduating with a philosophy degree from Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, and later a master's degree in acting at New York University. Williams said he had always wanted to be an actor growing up. When he started getting more offers to act in parts that he said, “were the actor's equivalent to a nine to five,” he questioned why he should be acting in roles that he tried to fight against as a teenager.
“You haven't seen me in a lot of films, not because I haven't wanted to be in them,” said Williams. “But, unfortunately, some people looked at some of my work and said, ‘that's great,' but, first they wanted to see if I wanted to play a detective or a bad cop or good cop or a drug dealer. Then it was like, ‘can you play a crazy guy?' There are not a lot of roles for intelligent black guys.”
Over the years, Williams has released four collections of poetry. In his latest release, the Dead Emcee Scrolls: The Lost Teachings of Hip-Hop, Williams attacks the stereotypes associated with hip-hop culture. He addresses the issue of the commercialization of hip-hop culture as well as the hip-hop artist. This book reads very much in the same way as if one were to read through musical notes of a hip-hop album. It contains more of a lyrical and rhythmical quality that is not as prevalent in his past work, according to several book reviewers, such as Mark Eleveld of Booklist, and fans of Saul Williams.
Although Williams continues to have poetry compilations, Williams said that music is becoming more important to him as his career advances. He has had four albums released within the last ten years and has also appeared on numerous compilations like Nublu Sessions mixed by Wax Poetic. He also has performed as a guest with artists like Lyrics Born. Williams said that his next album will be out sometime in 2008.
“I'm much happier making music than I would have been on the set of Law and Order playing a lawyer,” said Williams.
The separation between Williams' performances and his home life is very thin. Williams said that he recently has picked up painting, but he gets most of his writing done when he's at home.
“That's actually what I do in my spare time, stuff I do for a living,” said Williams. “I'm either conceptualizing film ideas or book ideas. These are my favorite pastimes and that's what I do.”
In addition to his array of talents and performances, Williams is also a father.
“That's the coolest thing about this whole thing,” said Williams. “When my kids are out of school, I'm able to be there fully as long as my I'm not traveling.”
Williams' future plans include finishing up another book, finishing a script for a film, producing a film, and releasing his next album. His performance on Monday marks one of several visits to Western over the years.
“The first time I flew in it was over the Olympic Peninsula and I thought it was beautiful,” said Williams. “I'm just a big fan of Washington State. Over the years, I've spent a lot of my downtime there and I've just had a ball.”