NiggyTardust by Saul Williams

Though it may not fit nicely into cookie-cutter genre labels, Saul Williams' latest effort has a lot to offer to the open-minded listener.

By Evan Millar for CordWeekly.com on November 5, 2007

Artist: Saul Williams
Album: The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust
Release Date: 11/01/07
Rating: 8.9/10
Check out: “NiggyTardust”, "Skin of a Drum", “The Ritual”

Saul Williams’ third offering, The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust, is an amazing piece of work. It’s not often that an album is able to combine so many genres while maintaining a sense of unity and proper flow, without losing the listener in the process.

The lyrics are thought-provoking and powerful, the beats are strong, and the poignant sense of urgency found in Williams’ message is rich and interesting. It’s because of these factors that the album succeeds in providing a unique and enjoyable listening experience.

Before I saw Nine Inch Nails last year, front man Trent Reznor announced Williams was opening, and I recall being somewhat worried about how the fans would react to him. When I arrived at the show, the crowd seemed to be responding to him fairly well, but they looked rather confused.

A reason for that confusion perhaps is that Williams is by no means your average emcee. His unique blend of spoken word poetry and hip-hop can be slightly overwhelming upon first listen. Early in his career, Williams read poetry, later focusing his attention to acting, and now music. Through the progression of his work, he’s proven himself to be a multi-talented artist for those who’ve taken interest.

Produced by the aforementioned Reznor and currently available online at www.niggytardust.com, the album follows in the footsteps of Radiohead, offering listeners the option of downloading the music free of charge. While Radiohead’s idea was an important one, many fans were less than pleased with the quality of the files they were receiving.

Reznor, who helped Williams release the album independently, aimed to improve upon this method, offering multiple options in terms of MP3 quality for those that choose to pay five dollars. It should also be mentioned that there is a limit on how much you can pay, whereas fans could donate an unlimited amount directly to Radiohead.

When opening track “Black History Month” begins, whatever expectations you would normally have listening to hip-hop are no longer relevant because this isn’t just hip-hop. The grinding distortion of the polyrhythmic beat catches you completely off-guard, pummeling the listener with layering effects reminiscent of something the infamous Bomb Squad production team (widely known for their work with Public Enemy) would be generating if given today’s technology to work with.

One of the first lines – “I’ve never been shot, but I bet you I’m braver” – seems to be a direct jab at rappers like 50 Cent who focus on playing up ridiculous gangster-ism in order to appeal to the masses of youth concerned with such nonsense.

Multiple tracks, such as “Convict Colony” and an exceptional static-filled cover of U2’s (yes, you read correctly) “Sunday Bloody Sunday” have more of a rock-oriented sound that will draw in those that feel alienated by hip-hop’s vocal delivery style. Williams does inject his impressive singing voice on over half of the songs, as well as utilizing a number of interesting vocal effects.

The title track, “NiggyTardust”, is a break from the intensity of the first five tracks, featuring a brilliant and hilarious chorus that simply has to be heard. I won’t spoil it, as it works best in the context of the song itself. Let’s just say, Prince would be jealous. The last verse, complete with a vocoder, further adds to the enjoyment factor.

“Scared Money” is almost full-blown dub, complete with soulful organ and an array of compelling lyrics. The tribal beat of “Skin of a Drum” sounds like something pulled straight from a Tom Waits album. Melodic cuts like “Banged and Blown Through” and “No One Ever Does” are slow-burning gems that serve as a break before the chaos of the latter-half of the album.

The last track, “The Ritual”, sounds exactly as its name implies. By far the darkest and most volatile song on the record, Saul’s furious lyrics weave in and out of a pulsating and gripping rhythm. Towards the finale, clever sexually charged rage resonates behind a heavy backdrop of loud ambience, eventually disappearing and leaving only Williams’ voice trailing off into silence. It’s a stunning conclusion to a brilliant album.

NiggyTardust will most likely offer something enjoyable to any open-minded listener, regardless of what genre preferences they may have. Its well-rounded and dynamic track list offers surprises around every corner, revealing more layers, even after multiple listens. It’s a combination of these aspects that make The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust one of the best hip-hop albums of 2007.

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