Saul Williams wasn’t breast-fed.
The 28-year-old goes beyond mere personal tragedy to the world’s ills on his debut album, Amethyst Rockstar. Inexplicably released in Europe six months before its American debut, Rockstar was so long in the tooth that the closing track “Wine” was to have an appearance by Tupac (it’s recorded, but not on the album). The lack of ‘Pac is nothing more than a side note. It is the singular lyrical presence of Saul Williams, a noted poet from New York and the star of Sundance-favorite “Slam,” that makes this album fascinating.
Amethyst Rockstar’s opening salvo “La, La,La” is a thinly-veiled dismissal of Wu-Tang and commercial hip hop in general. From there, Williams’ ferocity does not dissipate. After a decade of dabbling in rock, Rick Rubin (Beastie Boys, LL Cool J) returns to hip-hop frontiers by producing a squelching fusion of ominous strings, fierce guitars and crashing break-beats. This westward expansion of hip hop is an accomplishment suitable for one of its pioneers, and it complements Williams’ itinerary perfectly.
Rockstar is aggressive from start to finish. Williams’ lyrics argue an inescapable challenge throughout, but the album remains layered, diverse, surprising – in no way redundant: “An exorcism of all this keep-it-real-ism.” Williams addresses all the issues that hip hop truly should: On “Penny For a Thought,” Williams questions Abu-Jamal Mumia’s purpose rather than parroting a call for his freedom. On “Om Nia Merican,” he chides blind patriotism. Pairing with his own father, he delineates fatherhood on “Our Father.”
From top to bottom, Amethyst Rockstar is scorching – as they say, this is a hot record.