It is usually refreshing to listen to a musician who does not allow himself to be bounded by formats. For the past few years, b-boy/poet/actor Saul Williams has been producing various singles, mostly for compilations, that bridge the gap between hip-hop and slam poetry in order to redefine music. Those who have peeped his cuts on the first Lyricist Lounge album and The Unbound Project, or witnessed his performance in the movie “Slam,” can attest to his ability to create music that is unique, passionate and meaningful.
But for the hip-hop heads and poetry lovers anticipating more of the same from Saul (myself included), Amethyst Rock Star will be a disappointment. The album”s 11 tracks are all assembled in the same basic way: Long lines of poetic verse backed by a simple beat and electronic effects. Points must be given for creativity. His eerie beats, composed mainly of brash violin, guitar samples and heavy drums, are unlike anything I”ve ever heard.
Unfortunately, it”s impossible to appreciate the musical aspect of his songs without ignoring his erratic verse. His style has changed much from that employed on his intelligent freestyles in “Slam.” Williams is at his best when he adheres to rhythm and melody, which he occasionally does in songs like “Robeson” and “1987.” He likes to use words as clubs to beat his listeners over the head. This may make for interesting poetry, but it makes for bad music. My favorite track is “La La La,” where Williams reverts back to his hip-hop roots and offers some tight battle-rhymes. Occasionally he focuses on telling a story, but he prefers to spout off images and rhetoric in the fashion of today”s wannabe-progressive rappers who aren”t nearly as enlightened as they claim. Williams certainly has a knack for crafting beautiful images, but they lose their meaning when mechanically piled on top of each other. At times he seems deep. More often, he sounds like the novice talent abusing open-mic nights in Ann Arbor cafes.
It is a shame to see an artist fall so far below his obvious potential for expression. It seems that William”s best work comes out when he is making music for somebody else”s compilation, not for himself.