Saul Williams' Tiny Desk Concert is the Most Powerful Thing You'll Watch Today

The New York rapper-poet brought the house down inside NPR’s studio.
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The New York rapper-poet brought the house down inside NPR’s studio.

Saul Williams is not your typical hip-hop fixture, constantly blurring the lines between genres in his pursuit for artistic expression, but there's an undeniable spirit of hip-hop in everything he does.

Through seamlessly integrating hip-hop's core elements with electronic music, spoken word, and poetry, Saul has spent his career retracing the steps of musical and cultural history that produced the artist we see and hear in his current incarnation, all the while offering passionate and intelligent commentary on the world around him.

In a recent appearance on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series, Saul gave an incredibly passionate performance that NPR even noted, “may be the most potent in our eight-year history.” Performing songs from his latest release, MartyrLoserKing, Williams delivered the scathing, poetic lyrical dexterity he’s known for, with songs specifically chosen for their overwhelming social relevance.

Factories in China, coltan from the Congo/ Smuggled to Burundi hidden in a bongo/ We beat a mighty drum, change his login 'fore they come/ Guns and ammunition pay tuition for the deaths be young/ Hacker, I'm a hacker, I'm a hacker in your hard drive/ There ain't no security, I'm hacking through your hard drive/ Information highway, tunnel vision highway/ Exit 17, yo, bring them motherfuckers my way/ Virus, I'm a virus, I'm a virus in your system/ Fuck your history teacher, bitch, I've never been a victim/ I'm just a witness, Hitler can come get this/ Rabbis in Ramallah throwing burkas on these bitches - “Burundi”

Accompanied by two acoustic guitars, Saul delivered every poignant line viscerally and with increasing purpose, reaching an emotional crescendo during a stripped-down version of “Down For Some Ignorance,” which left Williams in tears.

The raw passion inherent in Saul’s music and spoken word are a true testament to the power of hip-hop, his words chosen carefully and verbalized consciously to compliment their cause in the most optimal way possible.

This isn’t what hip-hop needs to or should sound like, but it sure as hell sounds great when it does.


By Brent Bradley. Follow him on Twitter.

Photo Credit: Claire Harbage/NPR