Actor, poet, musician, activist and writer are just some of Saul Williams’ occupations, but first and foremost he’s a rapper capable of creating work that can ignite a response in all are exposed to it. His fifth album MartyrLoserKing certainly will.
15 years since the release of his Rick Rubin co-produced debut Amethyst Rock Star, and 11 since his self-titled second album lifted him into the attentions of a wider audience, the anger towards corporations and those who abuse their power still persists at the very heart of his work, as does the beauty with which he finely blends poetry with alternative hip-hop. Like the recently retired Mos Def, he weaves lyrics with a self consciousness that goes further than supplying mere party tunes.
The dozen tracks that make up the course of MartyrLoserKing are poised to awaken our own consciousness and make the listener think. While many still herald Bob Dylan, Billy Bragg and Rage Against the Machine for their protest songs and bemoan the perceived modern day lack thereof, Saul Williams continues to pen social commentary aimed arrow-like at those who threaten our civil liberties.
Atmospherically rich opener "Groundwork" sets the album on a course of understated electronic flourishes where noise is embraced as a textural tool. Elsewhere, the piano-driven "Horn Of The Clock-Bike" takes things on a slight detour with its intricate motif forming the rhythmical spine of this eerie number that shows Williams' diversity.
The repetitive and distorted refrain of “Dancing on the corpses ashes” that’s the spine of "Ashes" is borrowed wholesale from At The Drive-In's "Invalid Litter Dept", but the influence stretches further within the embracement of multi-textured discordant sounds layered to form a shifting backdrop. On MartyrLoserKing as a whole, there's a deep anger directed at those who take advantage, a rage often mirrored in the beats and rhythms that careen beneath. Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails sat in the producers chair for his 2007 effort The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust! and it appears that the tricks learnt during its recording remain in the bed ofsynth sounds stretching far onto the mechanical beats that underpin "The Bear Coltan As Cotton".
MartyrLoserKing may not just be one of Saul Williams' best, but it could also find itself among the most important albums of this year.