Saul Williams: Deep Thought

When Chuck D becomes President, who will deliver the presidential poem at his inaugaration? I suggest Saul Williams. Without Saul’s film Slam, would Def Poetry Jam be so popular? Without Saul’s books, the hip-hop section might be reduced to rapper autobiographies and books on Tupac. Without Saul’s album, our ears might not be ready for the bold fusions that are now being made by Big Boi, DMX, and even Jay-Z.

Saul Williams recent released a new book, Said the Shotgun, to the Head. The book chronicles, in poetry, the past years of our lives: the love, the war, the religion. The text is not for the foolish. Saul Williams is one of the most fertile minds in the culture, his insights on life, love, and hip-hop are worth the read.

AllHipHop Alternatives: She seemed to be focused on love primarily. In Said the Shotgun to the Head, you really added war and God to the theme of your poetry. Can love, God, and war co-exist?

Saul Williams: Uh, they have to, because they all exist. The main question that the [book] raises is what do you play in its existence? There’s a Native American saying that if we’re not careful, we’ll end up where we’re headed. My whole perspective is that it’s quite obvious where we’re headed, but maybe all the information in our heads needs redirected.

AHHA: At what point in the last three years did you focus your writing into this?

SW: The book is one poem. I’ve been working on the poem for four years. It came into shape around 9-11. I had already been writing about an ode to Kali, the Goddess of Destruction. When 9-11 happened, it was like, “Oh man, I have to focus my attention on this poem.”

AHHA: “The Pledge of Resistance” in text and audio truly captured the activist attitude of the past year. I’m sure you saw that power when you wrote that piece. But when you first performed it, was the response larger and more powerful than imagined?

SW: It was larger. Some of the things I wrote on, I wrote with a lot of thought – like, “this is great, people will like this.” But that stifles my creativity, or just jinx a project itself. So a lot of times, I just don’t think about it, I just get the work done. So I actually am surprised how many hear it. It felt like something I was blessed to be apart of at such an early stage, with or without my name being attached to it.

AHHA: When writing in the format that you do, how do you know when the work is complete?

SW: When do I know? My answer is…when it’s complete. Pretty much I can tell when the ends are just not tied up yet. It’s usually quite a labyrinth. I’m traveling, trying to get to the end. I usually don’t know I’m there, until I’m actually there.

AHHA: Are you aggressive in terms of editing?

SW: I’m very aggressive as I’m writing. It’s like washing dishes. Some people do dishes right after dinner. Others wait a while. Some people let them pile up for a week. I usually edit as I’m writing. A lot of times I refuse to turn the page unless everything on the page is exactly as it should be: proper choice of words, editing out words, making sure its as concise as possible. I seldom write something down, and come back to it.

AHHA: Said the Shotgun to the Head furthers your metaphors and allusions to hip-hop culture. Certainly the Seventh Octave had some pieces that were more obvious to hip-hop like ‘’1987.’’ But, is hip-hop still playing such an active role in your inspiration for writing?

SW: Hip-hop plays a very active role in my definition of me: the generation, the culture, that a part of. Of course, like many of us, when I think of the current state of commercial hip-hop, it’s not as much. Of course there’s times where I’ll say, “I really like this song regardless.” It plays an important part. A lot of times I’ll use hip-hop imagery. For instance, “Cross-fade into Onk” is probably the most profound stanza in the poem. Hip-hop is a reflection of things nowadays – the whole make money, get yours, dog eat dog world -a lot of the aspects of the conservative American culture that a lot of us were against.

AHHA: I think many would agree that you’re the poet laureate for hip-hop. I’ve heard the argument that MC’s are poets. Sometimes I agree. What’s your take on that argument seeing as how you’ve established yourself as both?

SW: As an unjiggy MC, yes – they’re one in the same. It used to be than an MC was the master of ceremony. The master. A master has to overlook, has to oversee, has to be an aggressor. An MC acts like he knows. An MC will declare something as“No question, no doubt.” A poet, on the other hand, will raise the question. A poet will wonder what it is that you’re seeing. The MC can show no vulnerability. The poet is all about vulnerability. There aren’t many MC’s that show vulnerability and ask questions, ‘Pac to Juvenile to Kweli to Kool Keith, across the board, all those guys ask introspective questions, out loud.

AHHA: How did you find that confidence for your writing, and does it carry into your speech, or is it reserved to your art?

SW: There are many things that come through my pen that I do not claim authorship of. In other words things come through me. I’ll look at things I wrote and say, I couldn’t have wrote that. So that in my life, while I am a confident man…I am constantly trying to live up to my writing. That’s my mission.