Rock-rap duo puts album online

By Andy O'Connor for The Daily Texan on November 21, 2007

Downloading music does not usually involve a direct transfer of money from consumer to label, but that does not mean downloading is free. You spend time and bandwidth getting music instead of time and money, and you use up space on a hard drive instead of on a bookshelf or a chest. Saul Williams is getting a lot of publicity for his decision to release his latest album, The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust, for free on the Internet. Luckily for Williams and his main collaborator on the album, Trent Reznor, Niggy Tardust is a good investment.

After listening to this album, it is a wonder why Reznor does not do more hip-hop production. His style is grounded in more modern Nine Inch Nails, but he does not rehash his own material. "Break," with its clashing keyboards, demonstrates this quality in prime form. "The Ritual" contains a synth line that is reminiscent of Pretty Hate Machine, but beefed up for 2007. The album's opener, "Black History Month," combines martial synth patterns with a capella beatboxing, which enhance Williams' aggressive flow. Reznor uses Public Enemy's "Welcome to the Terrordome" as a foundation for "Tr(n)igger." Not surprisingly, it's one of the album's more abrasive tracks.

Williams' background as a slam poet pays off. Unlike many rappers, he can change his flow significantly to fit the song. "No One Ever Does" sees Williams providing some soulful, if off-kilter, ballad singing to complement Reznor's lonely piano and hush guitar drone. In "Tr(ni)gger," when Reznor switches of Flav and co., Williams serenades "What do you teach you children about me" in the same way, but over a slightly bent psychedelic pop break.

He presents a jazzy coolness on the album's title track, but what makes this song stand out most is the chorus. He utters "When I say Niggy/you say nothing," an ironic twist on the call-and-response element so vital to black music. In keeping with Reznor's industrial background, Williams does a fine tribute to Michael Gira's deep, gravely voice in "Raw." It makes the mininamlistic thumping even more scary.

Williams does not always strike gold - he does an annoying imitation of Bloc Party's Kele Okereke on an uninspired cover of U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday."

Niggy Tardust does not just reference Bowie in name, but also Williams' chameleon-like ability to change his persona and sound in an album, all while sounding only like Saul Williams. With the exception of the U2 cover, it's more than worth downloading.

However, if Williams and Reznor were to collaborate in the future, they should go under the name Niggy Tardust, not Williams. The Williams/Reznor duo could become the Dr. Octagon of the 21st century, because the album is as much about the chemistry between poet and producer as it is about the lyrics.

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