By JOSH LAWSON
Not all rappers wear bling and not all poets wear berets, as Saul Williams proved last Friday.
“The only reason I don’t bling is ‘cause I blang,’” Williams said to an absorbed audience at a keynote address in Dodd Auditorium, sponsored by the James Farmer Multicultural Center.
Of course, as Williams explained right off the bat, delivering a keynote speech interested him very little. In fact, rather than taking the stage—or even a microphone, Williams stood on the floor, less than a foot away from the front row of the audience.
The rapper/poet/actor/director spent nearly two hours reciting poetry from his various books and taking questions from the audience in a back-and-forth discussion that touched on everything from civil unrest in Egypt to living through the birth of hip-hop in 1980’s New York City as well as Williams’ own origins as an emcee.
“I discovered hip-hop and Shakespeare at the same time,” he explained. “So it was like going in two different directions with language; one more toward the street and one more towards this heightened ancient thing.”
But Williams’ career soon progressed past rapping, as his discovery of hip-hop soon led him into poetry. Oddly enough, despite several acclaimed books of poetry, Williams is still reluctant to call himself a poet.
“I thought that it would be arrogant if I called myself a poet because I had never studied it. If someone said ‘are you a poet?’ my response would be ‘I write poetry,’ but I would never call myself a poet,” he said.
Those in attendance Friday night, however, would be hard pressed to agree, as Williams verbal acrobatics left the crowd speechless and applauding again and again.
Closing his performance with an a capella rendition of “Black Stacy,” a cut from his 2004 self-titled album, Williams proved his music is just as mesmerizing as his poetry.
More recently Williams worked alongside Nine Inch Nails front man Trent Reznor on his 2007 album “The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust.” Taking a more progressive approach to the industry, Williams released the album online for free.
“[This] gave me the opportunity to release an album that was not labeled so that it could just be ingested as an experience. That was the most exciting part for me,” he said. “And the fact that it was free made it more exciting, because then I knew that no one would be inhibited from the experience because they couldn’t afford it.”
This year Williams will return to music with his fourth album, “Volcanic Sunrise.”
“It’s the first album that I’ve ever written where I didn’t write anything out of anger,” he said. “It’s the truest reflection of who I am.”
After providing the audience with jaw-dropping displays of slam poetry and thorough and thought-provoking answers to any and all inquiries, Williams stuck around to sign autographs and take pictures with a grateful audience.
Having made his mark in the fields of film, music and literature, Williams is an unstoppable creative force and his performance was certainly a sight to behold. Attendees of Friday’s event are sure to never forget it.