Posted in Arts, Top Arts

An interview with poet and musician Saul Williams

Music, beats, and words from the street

Saul Williams wants to “[provide] music and fuel for activists.”
Saul Williams wants to “[provide] music and fuel for activists.”
Image Credits: Geordie Wood

Passion. Intensity. Purpose. These are some of the words that come to mind when listening to artist Saul Williams perform.

Hailing from New York, Williams is a master of many trades. He is a rapper, slam poet, musician, and actor. Regardless of what or where he is performing, his words and the meaning behind them always pack a powerful punch.

Williams credits a lot of his creativity to his safe and privileged upbringing. In email correspondence with The Peak, Williams reflected on his childhood and how it enabled him to spend “a lot of time in [his] head.

“I felt safe enough to read, dance, imagine, dream,” Williams recounted. “The richness of the culture I was part of by growing up in the African American church, the hood, [New York] during the birth of hip hop. . . all of it informed me.”

Ever since his debut album Amethyst Rock Star in 2001, Williams has been telling stories that are inspired by what he sees and hears around him. His latest album, MartyrLoserKing, continues to push boundaries and aims to connect the “first and third worlds” through words, music, and multimedia.

Spending time writing and recording MartyrLoserKing in Senegal, Reunion Island, Haiti, Paris, New Orleans, and New York gave him a host of different perspectives. His album connects these unique places together to tell a story that must be told.

With provocative and forthright words about various hard-hitting topics like poverty, race relations, and violence and brutality, Williams often earns the title of ‘activist’ in discussion. When asked whether or not he views himself as an activist, Williams said he sees himself more like a “chef who gets pleasure from feeding activists.” His work, he says, reflects his world and the thoughts that occupy them, and he is interested in “providing music and fuel for activists.

“I want them to be well fed, the same way the system works to feed the bellies and morale of soldiers,” stated Williams.

While each track contain powerful words, the intensity and overall feeling varies from track to track; for example, “Horn of the Clock-Bike” has lyrics sung over the same motivic passage being repeated over and over on the piano, creating a slightly hypnotic feel that plays to the meekness of a martyr. In contrast, “Burundi” opens with very majestic strings, followed by forceful and percussive words that slice through the drum beats in the background.

His words mix effortlessly with hypnotic beats, powerful percussion and mbira (thumb piano) strokes, giving Williams a sound like no other that will keep you inspired. With regards to MartyLoserKing, Williams himself calls the vision that he has of the album “ahead of its time.”

Williams’ creative process, according to him, happens just “like that.” When asked how he knows whether a piece will become a song or poem, he says he lets the creative process take over, “I can never predetermine the outcome.” He treats the experience as if he were raising a child, ensuring that the “ideas are nurtured and fed” in order for them to grow: “If a poem calls for music I provide it. If a musical idea decides it’s ready for words, I provide them [and] try not to get in the way.”

From his early beginnings as a slam poet to coming onto the world stage with thought-provoking pieces, Saul Williams is taking the world on a wild ride under his wing, and he shows no signs of stopping.


(with files from