Lately, I've been feeling pretty Kanye Wested-out. I can only live life with Pablo for so long before I need a mental and sonic break, so I flipped on one of my favorite podcasts, Microphone Check, and prepared to listen to one of my favorite artists, Saul Williams. Finally, a portal away from Yeezy into another world.
And then, about 30 minutes in, co-host Ali Shaheed Muhammad had this exchange with Williams:
Ali Shaheed Muhammad: "Have you done any ghostwriting for people?"
Saul Williams: "The only person that I've helped write anything is Kanye...
Muhammad: "I don't know if that's public knowledge or....
Williams: "It's not really. The only thing I worked on was 'Love Lockdown' with him."
Ok, deep breath people. Let's relax, do some sun salutations, drink some herbal tea, we need to approach this calmly. First, obviously ghostwriting has been an en fuego topic in hip-hop over the last few months, and there's been a lot of confusion between just good ol' fashioned songwriting and ghostwriting. The most obvious difference between the two is that the ghoswriter's name is nowhere to be found on the official credits - hence the spectral part of the name - and sure enough Williams' name isn't on the liner notes for "Love Lockdown."
That doesn't mean Williams wrote every word of Kanye's verses, he may have contributed a line, a phrase or even just an idea, but given Kanye's willingness to credit seemingly anyone and everyone in the vicinity of his recording process, it's odd that Williams wouldn't get his name listed...unless his presence was more ghostly than mortal.
Second, while Williams says he only helped write on "Love Lockdown," he goes onto say that Kanye was deeply interested in his work not just in terms of his writing but his stage show as well.
"Kanye is the only one who approached me on that level, on many levels. When I was working on Niggy Tardust, he came to a show and he had ten people onstage at that time, we had four. He came back[stage] and was full of questions, like, 'How come you have less people onstage than me and have such a bigger sound?' 'What are you using?' He started flying my MPC guy, CX Kidtronik, out to Hawaii at the time and trying to find stuff out. Then he met with me and Trent [Reznor] to ask about lights, like, 'What type of lighting rig are you using? What is this?' So yeah, he is someone who's been interested." - Saul Williams
This news doesn't really take away any substantial impact made by Kanye. Rhymefest also recently said he ghostwrote for 'Ye, and far beyond ghostwriting he's always been a supreme absorber of a vast range of artists and styles, and in many ways, like the great sample producer he is, its his ability to take bits and pieces from everywhere and re-arrange them into something very much his that's his biggest strength. More than anything it's just mindblowing to know that someone like Williams was so fascinating to West. All those people who wrote that Yeezus was influenced by Williams Niggy Stardust album were closer to the truth than they realized.
I feel a little guilty boiling an hour-and-a-half interview down to its juiciest part - although come on, what hip-hop lover could resist that juice? - so hopefully this can also serve as an introduction to Williams for some, and a heads up to longtime fans that this interview exists and they need to listen to every second of it. The man simply possesses one of the most brilliant minds I've ever heard, and that's no Kanye-esque hyperbole.