When Saul Williams Preaches, We Listen
The annual B-Boy Hodown is doing more than just bringing windmills and back flips to Houston. The five-day event includes panel discussions, a film festival, musical happenings and big hip-hop names such as Kool Herc and poet/musician Saul Williams. Today, Williams will participate in a panel discussion at the University of Houston's University Center Satellite, and later host a Poetry Slam for Objectif Magazine's Hip-Hop Film Festival at Alamo Drafthouse West Oaks.
In a somewhat rambling, not always to the point, tangential exchange, Williams pontificated on why white kids like hip-hop and the meaning of the title of his new book The Dead Emcee Scrolls. — Dusti Rhodes
Dusti Rhodes: You pose the question "Why do white kids like hip hop?" But hasn't that been discussed enough already?
Saul Williams: You would think so, but I'm of the belief now that we have a lost generation. We have a generation of kids, essentially in their teens, that is more informed and less educated. Especially in issues, like they grew up literally thinking that hip hop is black and rock is white and all this stuff and we've enforced that.
What's it like for you to play in front of a group of white kids and sing songs like "African Student Movement," which has lyrics like "Tell me where my niggas at?"
SW: It's funny, I hardly really think of it because usually I — well, it's not I don't think about it, but I speak and say stuff like recently I've been saying "When I say nigga, I mean everybody."
So you're not excluding white people. But at the same time, would you want to hear a white person say that word?
SW: No, no. And so the confusion is the point. It's literally about how it's one thing to realize the importance of being comfortable and aware of your history. I think dancing through it kind of has to do with the usefulness of realizing that whatever it is that you're born into you can blossom out of. Thinking in those terms, white kids at the concert, black kids at the concert — who cares — the message is the same. You know, whether you feel comfortable singing along to it or not is individual.
Will your forum about the white interest in hip-hop tackle issues such as white privilege?
SW: It can be about that but it's also just about — I mean hip-hop is not just a singularly black music. Yes, the roots of hip-hop, rock 'n' roll, jazz — all these American art forms — do have their roots in the African-American community, but there's always some sort of collaborative thing happening that diversified it from the beginning or even its vision. That's what it was always about; that's what sampling and pulling from all these different sources has always represented metaphorically.
What's behind the title of your book, The Dead Emcee Scrolls?
SW: Hip-hop has this messianic sort of thing going on where everybody is trying to be the savior of hip-hop. That's what every Jay-Z reference to himself, you know, "I'm Jova. J-ova." This whole thing: "I'm the savior of hip hop, the Michael Jordan of hip hop." So, it's also a play on that and that's opened the perfect gateway to saying "Ah, here are some secret teachings."
The Objectif Magazine Hip-Hop Film Festival gets kickin' at 8 p.m. today at the Alamo Drafthouse - West Oaks, Highway 6 at Westheimer. The B-Boy Hodown goes down from Thursday, November 30 through Saturday, December 2 at The Meridian, 1503 Chartres. For the rundown on B-Boy events, click here.