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Saul Williams: Poetry in Motion

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The worlds of Hip-Hop and poetry have always had a shared reservoir. Many Hip-Hop artists began as poets before deciding to put their lyrics to music. And many artists long for a mode of expression that does not include a bass or drums, but just a voice and a mic. Enter Saul Williams. Poet, actor, musician, lyricist, and write, Saul has taken his prolific poetry and gifted it to Hip-Hop and created a sound that is all his own. An alum of HBCU, Morehouse College, Williams jumped on the radar of many back in 1996 when he became Nuyorican Poets Cafe’s Grand Slam Champion. His poetry would earn him critical acclaim and worldwide recognition. He is also an accomplished artist performing with the likes of such artists as Nas, The Fugees, Erykah Badu, KRS-One, and De La Soul. Yet he is probably most often recognized as Sivad, the virgin poet on the hit CW show “Girlfriends” who stole Persia White’s heart on and off the screen. We got a chance to catch up with the multitalented artist to chat about life, love and everything in between.AllHipHop.com Alternatives: Do you have a preference in being considered a poet or an artist?Saul Williams: I think of myself as an artist. I think poetry is an aspect of what I do. But I definitely didn’t grow up revering poetry and thinking that was something I wanted to be. It’s just something I kind of stumbled into, or it stumbled into me. It’s simply been a part of my path, as music has been, as theater has been. So I think artist speaks to the whole spectrum rather than any other term.AHHA: What inspires you to write on a daily basis?Saul Williams: In the past, I would have said I was creating to fill the void between what I was hearing and what I wish I could hear. So that basically instead of becoming a critic, I found that I had to find a way to satisfy my need especially in regards to Hip-Hop. I’ve said before that my relationship with Hip-Hop has always been like a woman’s relationship to lover when she’s not satisfied by him and she feels she needs to go purchase a toy. My toy was my journal and pen. A lot of emcees just weren’t doing it for me. So I had to find another way to get that satisfaction.AHHA: Specifically how were you dissatisfied with the state of Hip-Hop?Saul Williams: I would say it was probably the rise of that whole mid to late ‘90s. The whole “Diddy Era” where it was like so pop. I always still liked the gangster stuff, but the pop stuff bothered me. And when it became kind of pop to be gangster, then that bothered me too. There were always cats like Outkast that I felt were exploring, but around the mid ‘90s a lot of the Trip-Hop stuff started taking off, I found myself wishing that our Hip-Hop here in the States would travel some of those same avenues. But they weren’t. They were becoming more formulaic and predictable. Where they were starting to experiment more in other countries.

“There was this one time I was at Howard University’s homecoming in DC

and Tribe Called Quest performed and Grand Nubian and De La and all

these cats, but Tribe was headlining. And when “Check The Rhime” was on

and everybody started jumping with the 808, I was up in the front. I

swear to this day I saw a tear come to Q-Tip’s eye as he was watching

the crowd jump to his music. And it had never quite struck me, what it

would feel like to have people feeling you in that way.” – Saul on his happiest Hip-Hop moment

AHHA: What do you think about the future of Hip-Hop and where it’s going? Are you a little more satisfied than you were previously?Saul Williams: A bit of both. I think there is a lot of interesting stuff out there. And what’s most interesting is that there are more artists who are realizing the importance of being adventurous, of exploring a craft and an art form instead of trying to fit into it and compromising. Like you listen to Lil Wayne’s album and in the first three songs he references Andre 3000 three times. And he’s singing and playing guitar, and he is exploring himself as an artist. Really that’s all I ever wanted was to hear MCs or see MCs be more interested in being artists than businessmen per se. And that’s also what started happening in the mid ‘90s. You started having a lot of rappers who were like, “I’m not an artist, I’m a businessman.” So the business of Hip-Hop started taking over the creativity of Hip-Hop. It lost my attention at that point. Now I see cats getting creative. I mean I like cats like The Cool Kids and there’s tons of people out there who are certainly getting interesting. And cats here in America are starting to open their minds a little more to where the hood kid might actually take the time to listen to someone like M.I.A. or Santogold or N.E.R.D. or myself. We’re all allowing ourselves to have a broader definition of ourselves which I don’t really think we were to comfortable doing say ten years ago.AHHA: For someone who is not really familiar with your work as a poet or as an artist, how would you describe your body of work?Saul Williams: I have no idea how I would describe it. I would send them off to You Tube or something. My work simply chronicles my growth – from being an emcee to being myself. And everything I’ve had in me, I still have in me. I’ve encountered a lot along my journey, and I’ve incorporated a lot of what I’ve seen and learned and experienced in my work as I feel like I should. I want my work to be a reflection of my growth and who I am. And so I don’t know how I would describe it. But I know the path that I would send them on. They could start with Slam and move from there.AHHA: What would you say has been your happiest Hip-Hop moment?Saul Williams: There was this one time I was at Howard University’s homecoming in DC and Tribe Called Quest performed and Grand Nubian and De La and all these cats, but Tribe was headlining. And when “Check The Rhime” was on and everybody started jumping with the 808, I was up in the front. I swear to this day I saw a tear come to Q-Tip’s eye as he was watching the crowd jump to his music. And it had never quite struck me, what it would feel like to have people feeling you in that way. And he seemed like pretty much emotionally overwhelmed by the fact that the crowd was so into what they were doing. That was a dope moment for me.AHHA: I’m sure a lot of people are familiar with you through your guest appearance on “Girlfriends.” If you could just talk a little bit about how that even came about.Saul Williams: The way that happened – honestly, I actually knew the producers or rather the producer’s husband. And they were creating a character that was basically a caricature of me. They didn’t think that I would do it, but the day before they held auditions the casting agent called me and said, “Look, they are about to hold auditions for this role which everyone is admitting is a caricature of you. Nobody thinks that you would do it. Would you do it?” And I was like “Hell Yeah, it sounds like fun.” I actually didn’t own a TV at the time but I was happy to be apart of it. And the rest is history. That’s actually how and when and where I met my wife.

“I would say it was probably the rise of that whole mid to late ‘90s.

The whole “Diddy Era” where it was like so pop. I always still liked

the gangster stuff, but the pop stuff bothered me. And when it became

kind of pop to be gangster, then that bothered me too.” – Saul on when he became dissatisfied with Hip-Hop

AHHA: That actually brings me to my next question. People have heard the news that you and Persia White (Lynn) were married recently. How is married life? How has married life changed you as a person and as an artist?Saul Williams: Aw man it’s beautiful. There is a sense of groundedness that I never thought I never experienced or ever thought would be connected to marriage. There’s this huge confirmation of so many things that I’ve wanted to believe and questioned but doubted because of experience. And all of a sudden just a whirlwind of affirmations. Just “yes yes yes” from all these different directions have come at me as a result of this union. It’s been a surreal experience. Just beautiful.AHHA: Was your attraction to Persia something that just happened immediately on set as you two were working together, or did everything happen after you had already filmed your episodes?Saul Williams:  It actually took some time. The way we actually connected was we found out that we lived around the corner from each other and that we both had daughters who were close in age. At the time we were both in relationships but we knew we had a lot in common – music and art and what have you. So we would hang out, drink tea, and let our daughters play. Our daughters really started conspiring to get us together. But we were both in relationships, so neither of us were really thinking like that. And years passed and we remained friends and our daughters remained friends. And eventually we reconnected at a time when neither of us were in a relationship and saw each other in a completely new light. And that was not too long ago.AHHA: If you could communicate just one idea or one thought to someone about yourself or your work or your music, hat one thing would you want someone to walk away with?Saul Williams: Growth, evolution transformation. It’s all one thought. But different words embody different aspects of what it entails. I hear a lot of rappers say nothing’s going to change me. But for me, change is my God.

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