CD Review of The Inevitable Rise of Niggy Tardust by Saul Williams
Recommended if you like
Nine Inch Nails, Public Enemy,
Gil Scott-Hero
Label
Fader
Saul Williams:
The Inevitable Rise
of Niggy Tardust

Reviewed by James B. Eldred

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S
aul Williams is one of those artists who never get much mainstream success, but has enough recognition from people who “matter” to make up for it. Rick Rubin liked him enough to not only sign him to his label but also produce his 2001 debut Amethyst Rock Star. And his self-titled follow-up attracted heavy hitters such as Zach de la Rocha and Serj Tankian. He also did guest appearances for artists as diverse as Blackalicious, Coldcut and Buckethead.

Even with all those collaborations, his recent pairing with Trent Reznor was still a bit surprising (there’s not many industrial/rap acts out there). First it manifested itself with Saul opening for, and occasionally performing with, Nine Inch Nails during their 2006 tour. Then Saul popped up again, performing on a couple Nine Inch Nails remixes and B-sides that more recently appeared on the horrifically-titled Y34rz3r0r3m1x3d.

The pinnacle of the duo’s peanut-butter and chocolate mix is The Inevitable Rise of Niggy Tardust, which is the first of Williams’ releasesto successfully encapsulate everything that’s just so damn great about him. From the abrasive rants of “Black History Month” and the breakbeat madness of “Convict Colony” to the emotional and musical bareness of ballads such as “Raw” and “No One Ever Does,” this is one hell of a record.

Nearly every track on Niggy Tardust defies categorization. Rap mixes with metal-churning guitars and industrial beats, while soothing piano ballads are sandwiched between grinding distortion effects and near non-stop screaming.

Of course, accompanying all these great musical experiments are the words of a poet. Saul Williams is one of the biggest names of the slam poetry movement, and his words show more variety, introspection and political awareness than much of the rap flooding MTV today.

Much of Williams’ rhymes are barbed attacks against mainstream hip-hop and the culture of crime and willful ignorance that embraces it. On “DNA,” he raps from the view of a thug-worshipping rapper thankful for the ignorance of mainstream media that results in his promotion, “Ask these editors at MTV / As far as they know they be publishing some new school poetry.”

On “Tr(n)igger,” Williams sets his sights on those in the underclass who would rather wallow in self-pity then get up off their asses and do something: “You want to blame it on the government / On why you got no money for the rent?” The track’s urgency is further enforced by a killer sample from “Welcome to the Terrordome.”

Williams takes on current events in a somewhat unexpected way, by covering U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” in a surprisingly faithful manner (with a great singing voice, even).

Actually, throughout the second half of the album, Williams sings more often than not, and usually to great effect. His whispers through the lover’s lament “Raw” create more power and emotion than any yelling or screaming could, and the minimalist beats backing them make them even more powerful. “No One Ever Does,” a straight-up piano ballad that sticks out like a sore thumb (in a good way), shows that Williams has the vocal chops to fill in for Seal if he ever needs a break from crooning power ballads.

But the most surprising thing about The Inevitable Rise of Niggy Tardust is that it’s free. Anyone who wants to can download it at the official website for no cost, and if you like it, you can purchase a higher-quality set of MP3s for just five bucks. You’d be an idiot to pass up that deal.

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