Review Summary: Setting the benchmark for poets and MCs everywhere.
Saul Williams really is something special. I don't think it would be too much of stretch to place him near the summit of the top lyricists of our generation. While other slam poets such as Buddy Wakefield and B.Dolan need to churn out pure spoken word records to show off their genius (B. Dolan's latest hip-hop offering required certain lyrical sacrifices), Saul Williams, even in his début, is able to effortlessly blend profundity and flow. Add some quirky beats and novel song structures to the mix and you have an irresistible cocktail.
Amethyst Rock Star
is one of those rare transcendent albums. Regardless of your particular musical proclivities, regardless of any prejudice you may have against hip-hop or spoken word, the sheer artfulness of Williams' maiden offering will coax admiration out of even the most begrudging of listeners. Why is this? Short answer: it's pretty damn refreshing to hear somebody both smart and talented behind the mic. Shying away from clichés of both genres he straddles, Williams has a unique voice which he maintains throughout the album. He pays homage to the great hip-hop standards, but frequently chides the genre's increasingly asinine tendencies, invoking the spirit of the movement's pioneers. Similarly, while what he spews is undoubtedly poetic, he doesn't – with the exception of "Robeson" – become mired in dense narratives designed to convey an aesthetic at the expense of musicality. Equal parts introspective and outward-looking, balancing both philosophical musings and unassuming social commentary, Amethyst Rock Star
can't help but draw you in to Williams' world.
It's not just a case of what Williams says however, but also how he says it. Every track on the album is chock-full of mind-bending imagery and turns of phrase which paint compelling, constantly shifting pictures in your mind. Indeed, every track requires multiple listens to grasp every allusion and intimation. Furthermore, as alluded to, while the album takes a couple of spoken word detours on tracks such as "Untimely Meditations" and the aforementioned "Robeson", Amethyst Rock Star
is primarily a hip-hop album. Most tracks have plenty of interesting flow and beats that (although on the minimal side) keep the head bobbing. I challenge anybody to listen to "Tao Of Now", "1987" and "Om Nia Merican" and not find themself unconsciously nodding their heads. Again though, as with the vocals, there's nothing generic about the production; Williams' musical voice strives to be just as unique as his lyrical one.
Many Williams fans will argue that the album is a bit of a rough diamond and that his self-titled follow-up represents a marked improvement. I remain obstinate in my disagreement however. While, certainly, his eponymous effort is equally impressive and probably more polished in all areas, Amethyst Rock Star
stands out as an astonishing work of raw creativity that is lyrically and creatively unrivalled. You feel as if you are listening to something fresh, something new and something special. It is an experience.