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Saul Williams: The Inevitable Rise And Liberation Of Niggy Tardust

B+

Saul Williams

Album: The Inevitable Rise And Liberation Of Niggy Tardust
Label: Internet-only release

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Saul Williams' pedigree—he came up in the slam-poetry scene, transitioning to a hip-hop career bolstered by big-name rock producers Rick Rubin and Trent Reznor—accounts for the almost uncomfortably aggressive aesthetic of The Inevitable Rise And Liberation Of Niggy Tardust. (It also accounts for the album's distribution method; at Reznor's suggestion, Tardust is being offered for free online, with the option to pay for a higher-quality version.)

Williams has always crossed firebrand politics with metaphysical wordplay, and Reznor's unmistakable production flourishes—many backing tracks sound like NIN leftovers, a likeness that's heightened by the similarity between Williams' sung vocals and Reznor's—create a dark, brooding arena for the MC to explore those areas. For the most part, Williams avoids the histrionics that can plague rap-rock hybrids, tempering his anger with introspection and cynical humor. ("Ask these editors at MTV / Far as they know they're publishing some new-school poetry.") He isn't the most gifted verbal acrobat, and he occasionally wanders into the needlessly obtuse, but his willingness to explore unusual rhythms, as well as his above-average lyricism and earnest (though somewhat average) singing, prove that the marriage of rock and rap can be more than a musical punchline.