Saul Williams [www.saulwilliams.com] is a hybrid. A poet. A rapstar. A rockstar. Maybe the best way to describe Williams is renaissance man, or you could simply say hes an artist. Williams started out as an open-mic poet, so it goes without saying that he comes from a distinctly different background from a typical MC, and it shows. His talent as a spoken word artist led to a role in the 1998 feature film SLAM, which won both the Sundance Festival Grand Jury Prize and the Cannes Camera D’Or.
His work in SLAM was a breakthrough for Williams, leading to collaborations and performances with everyone from Erykah Badu, KRS-One, and De La Soul to The Fugees and Zach De La Rocha (Rage Against the Machine). Williams released his debut as a recording artist, the Rick Rubin-produced Amethyst Rock Star, in 2001 followed by a critically-acclaimed self-titled album in 2004.
In 2005, Williams crossed paths with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. I met Trent when he asked me to fill the opening slot of his European With Teeth tour, explains Williams. After only the 2nd show he asked if I might be down to collaborate on a song or album, whatever I saw fit. At the time we were both listening to the Kanye/Jon Brion collaborations and feeling like a cocktail of our two worlds would fare even more interestingand harder.
Williams and Reznors relationship progressed from there, and both found common ground in their mutual belief in the power of music and the intelligence of the masses. And so a Saul Williams/Trent Reznor collaboration was inevitable, as was NiggyTardusts rise and liberationReznor produced Williams latest LP, The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust, which was released by The FADER Label as a free DRM-free download last wintera bold and progressive move for artist and label alike.
1. What’s your favorite political movie?
I probably consider many more movies than are deemed ‘political’ through the filter of social and identity politics. I think its hard for writers and directors to escape politics in plot direction or casting choices especially when backed by Hollywood financiers who end up making choices which can be seen as ideologically or politically ‘safe’ for the sake of achieving broader appeal. Those choices have as much effect on the socio-political landscape as the rare overtly political film. My point is that all films are political, in that they may perpetuate an obliviousness that endorses a status quo that chooses to see their choices outside of the realm of politics, albeit impossible. For instance when a popular fantasy film puts all the bad guys in dark skin and turbans, even though they exist in an alternative reality they have made choices corelate with ours and send a message whether they are aware or not. All that being said, I don’t know if I have a favorite political film. Films that have broached controversial figures like CRY FREEDOM come to mind, but so do the popular antics of Michael Moore, whose courage is truly commendable. Right now, I’d say films like the documentary Earthlings begins to explore the new politics of our times.
2. What role do you feel art plays in politics?
For every generation there are artists that serve as generators. The charge that youth, in particular, feel from courageous attempts at labeling injustice and imagining the world that is possible is often triggered by the idealistic un-jaded artist who voices or exposes what is often times seen as the shortcomings or hypocrisy of the previous generation. The fact is that as consciously evolving beings we will always be upgrading our understanding of compassion and justice, generation upon generation, yet it is often the artist that finds a creative way of expressing those new found ideals that then inspires many through the realization that they are not alone and gives them the charge to speak up.
I believe that art can always serve to inspire us to imagine the world that is possible. The role that the imagination plays in manifesting a reality is insurmountable. We must be able to envision the reality we are grasping for. At its best, art can allow us to scale and model possibilities.
3. What do you think is the biggest issue for the next generation of Americans?
I think we have to start connecting dots between the things we say we are opposed to and daily practices which we perpetuate in the name of comfort and tradition. The oil, meat, and energy that we consume seemingly oblivious to the effect it has on our environment, our health, and the welfare of the planet, jeopardizes our ability to overcome a history of greed, hypocrisy, and violence and puts us at risk viral wipe-out. Our biggest issue is ourselves and the individual effort it will take for each person to ween themselves from oblivion.
4. Who was the first political candidate you were excited to vote for and why?
Barack Obama is the first candidate whom I can say I am truly excited to vote for in my life time. I have appreciated other candidates such as Al Gore, Kerry, and Nader, but they never sincerely excited me (although I’ve grown to appreciate Gore more with time). Barack excites me because I believe that, like a good artist, he has tuned into the pulse of our generation and time. Although, I don’t agree with all of his policies (warring with Afghanistan, the continued hunt for Bin Laden) I also acknowledge that he would not be in his position if he didn’t say these things. Such are the rules of politics and politicians, they must reflect the wills of the people. Yet, if I accept that every politician is a bullshit artist to some degree then I would argue that Barack’s bullshit would be when he attempts to deny that he’s a pacifist. Not that those future atrocities will not occur, but I believe that he will value human life more that past presidents.
5. What factors are important to you in choosing a president?
Aside from agreeing ideologically, its more of a visceral connection that I hope to make with a candidate. It’s rare that I’ve actually believed a candidate when they’ve spoken. More than anything, its a feeling, no different than when I connect with a stranger and sense ‘this is a cool person’ or ‘this guys a liar’.
6. What issues would you like to see politicians focus more on?
Energy. Education. Healthcare. Economy.
7. Which issues would you like to see politicians focus less on?
8. Which candidate’s initiatives do you feel better address environmental concerns?
Barack seems to understand the changes needed to a greater degree and seems less afraid to instill them. There’s still need for growth though.
9. This is your soapbox shout it out! What do you need to get off your chest?
Love. Awareness. Growth. Courage. Change. Imagination.
10. Do you have any recommended links, books or movies so people can learn more about the issues you care about?
I list them daily on the forum at SaulWilliams.com [www.saulwilliams.com]
Extra Credit: Fill in the blank. _________ for change.
CHANGE for a change.