Amethyst Rock Star

Jan 23, 2002 at 12:00 am
Nuyorican poet and American recording artist Saul Williams' new album, Amethyst Rock Star, works on all the levels that Cornel West’s opus does not. Amethyst, produced by Rick Rubin (Beastie Boys, Johnny Cash), is an angry, psychedelic, conflicted monster of a hip-hop record filled with drum ’n’ bass breakbeats, upside-down string work and ungh-riff guitars.

Williams, whose performance breakthrough came in 1998’s Slam, lets loose early with the foreboding cello work and stutter-step drum hiccup of “La La La.” And then comes the pusher-junkielike address of “Penny for a Thought.” Both are urgent calls to enter a morally and monetarily conflicted world where Saul bluntly can address his audience with, “What have you bought into? / How much will it cost to buy you out?”

Parallel universes later, Williams cloaks himself in guitar riffs and old-school crowd chants (“and ya don’t stop”) in songs such as “Fearless” and “Om Nia American,” using his well-executed verbal stream of consciousness to fill out Rubin’s signature fusion of rock and rap. Whether thrusting his poetry against the tattered remains of a Rage Against the Machine sample or expressing the world-historical importance of the “the quantized drum” in “Coded Language,” Amethyst forms a convincing system, where no topic (police brutality, MTV, raising children, prophetic dream states, heroes) seems out of bounds. The postmodern child that he is, Williams lets the cultural dikes collapse behind a Rubin-inspired rock chariot. Though the message is not nearly as hopeful or concise, Williams’ Amethyst locks into the zeitgeist expressing a story worthy of Professor West’s dramatic vision.

E-mail Carleton S. Gholz at [email protected].