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The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust

Saul Williams

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Album Review

Trent Reznor's Nine Inch Nails project roared back to life after his deal with Interscope came to an acrimonious close. He issued two self-released albums, the instrumental set Ghosts I-IV and Slip, which were both given away free on the internet before being released formally. That said, it is this production project of his by poet cum rapper Saul Williams that may be of the greatest interest aesthetically for two reasons: first there is the collaborative aspect of the work, equal parts Williams' and Reznor's. Second, it too was given away online before the disc appeared on the Fader label. The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust grafts more than its title from David Bowie's classic The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Niggy is Williams' alter ego just as Ziggy was Bowie's. By invoking the master of disguise, the weight falls on Williams' to deliver an album worthy of that comparison. Williams' Niggy feels no such pressure but he lays down a ton anyway.

From Reznor's textured ambience and scorched earth synths, Williams has crafted harder beats here than on anything he's done before. (It's more focused than anything Reznor's done in recent years, too.) If anything, this feels like the dense, layered steel noise laid down by the Bomb Squad with Public Enemy, updated for the 21st century — check the constant loop of Chuck D's voice from Welcome to the Terrordome as a rhythmic device on "Tr(n)igger." This is Saul Williams unleashed. The shredded synth and rhythm machines on "Black History Month" provoke Williams: "Can you feel it/I'm tougher than bullets baby/Nothin can save ya, better pray to your savior..." Bowie channeling Iggy channeling the Roots? And he's right in those opening lines: Williams ups the bar, embracing both resistance and empowerment with a conceptual wall of noise that breaks the back of the gangster MCs, and pushes hard on the media stereotype of hip-hop — until it breaks. A fantastic example of this is the choice of U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday" as a cover. It keeps the melody but turns the music inside out, leaving rags in its wake. For Williams, "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" is everyday in the neighborhood, but it needn't be. He answers it immediately on "Break": "And when my fears arise/I blow 'em out/Get it out, spit it out, get it out..." as the sonic wall tenses under his voice, then coils as he begins speaking white heat from the street to the heavens. Or maybe just the listener — to Williams, they're the same. The searing beats and raw edges here are tougher than Trick's — or anything in the scattered blur of trip-hop — nor does it resemble the current hip-hop stream.

This outsider blend is a partnership that feels like a new paradigm for hip-hop itself. Here, accepted and ignored notions of race and class are ripped to shreds leaving in their wake not a power structure but a different perception with rhythm as the soundtrack of that change. In "Ritual," Williams leaves the "corpses" of stereotypes "in the furnace." But he begins again on the spoken "Pedagogues of the Young Gods" (a bonus five-cut suite for the CD version). Those final five tracks are a self and cultural analysis, to a palette of crushing low end rhythms, warped futuristic synth loops (à la Bowie's Low), and a skittering drum kit, in a search and destroy mission for remaining ignorance. This is Williams' finest moment, and interestingly, one of Reznor's, too.

Customer Reviews

Dark-skinned, lily white

I downloaded (and paid for) this album when it was released digitally. I'm buying the phsyical CD in July when it becomes available. This album is an excellent work of art, no matter your musical tastes. I found Saul, like many, through NIN. Trent Reznor's production on this album is amazing. Definitely worth the initial cost, and the bonus tracks warrant the CD as well, even though for $5 I could just buy the additional tracks here on iTunes (quality over value, people). I'd prefer to choose my bitrate rather than settle. Highlights: Tracks 1-15. Yeah. The entire album is great. Tracks 16-20 look promising: "Pedagogue..." uses the music from "No One Ever Does," and "Gunshots by Computer" is Saul's lyrical interpretation of "Hyperpower!" from NIN's Year Zero. "List of Demands" is from one of Saul's earlier albums, but a strong track. See this man live. Buy his records. Support the future of music, and good, meaningful art/poetry!

A phenomenal poetrist

This album comes VERY close to Year Zero for best album of 2007, in my opinion. That's saying a lot, coming from an obsessive NIN fan who spends all of his money trying to get every single freaking halo. All of them except freaking CLOSURE But I digress. Check this out, regardless of whether you're into this kind of music or not. Don't expect it to sound like what you normally listen to, and try to stay open-minded. It WILL grow on you. I thought "Black History Month" was pretty annoying at first but it's become my favorite. Saul's music is so intelligent and original. He was originally a poet before he went into music and it shows. The lyrics are great. This album can COMPLETELY change your opinion of hip-hop. It did for me.

most honest hip hop album in years

Finally, an artist that is honest and not just telling stories of all their money and gansta ways. Instead Saul (Niggy, if you will) over exploits it in order to point out its ignorance, all the while creating one of the most eclectic hip hop albums this side of Outkast. Trent Reznor also shines here by producing an album in a territory he had yet to explore. This was my favorite album of 2007 (I bought it when it first dropped last year on Niggy's site) and am continuing to throw it in mixes for friends and for myself.


Born: February 29, 1972 in Albany, NY

Genre: Hip-Hop/Rap

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

First establishing himself as an influential poet, and then as an award-winning screenwriter/actor, Saul Williams then went on to establish himself as an MC. His approach to MC'ing, though, wasn't exactly in line with the traditional school of hip-hop. His rhymes weren't really rhymes but rather his poetry delivered in a frenzied spoken word manner that was more rhythmic than alliterative. His first major recording was a collaboration with KRS-One, "Ocean Within," which appeared on the soundtrack...
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