The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust

A track by track rundown of Saul Williams' latest album

By Tony Randazzo for The NIN Hotline on October 31, 2007

Like a lot of NIN fans, I first heard of Saul Williams when he started opening a few shows for NIN during the With Teeth tours. I had the privilege of seeing Saul perform live in Atlantic City last year at the House of Blues. To say that it blew me away would be an understatement. The best way, as far as I'm concerned, to first see Saul Williams is to see him live and to see his energy. The man is a true poet and lyricist, which was evident because I immediately grabbed his two previous LPs and whatever else I could find. The man had it. He saw what was going on around him and made damn sure that everyone else did too.

It was around this time when news started leaking that Trent and Saul were working on Saul's new record and that Saul was going to be involved with Year Zero. We've heard his contributions to that album and his remix of "Survivalism" that first introduced us to the name, NiggyTardust. My initial reaction was, "OK, cool name. I dig it." Of course, it only makes sense that there's more to NiggyTardust and now, with the release of the Reznor produced album, we're ready to see what NiggyTardust is all about.

10/25/2007 was the date that nin.com and niggytardust.com updated with the news that Saul's new album was going to be released November 1st with two options:

1. Support the artist by paying and choose from 192Kbps or 320Kbps MP3 files or Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC), which is basically lossless CD quality
2. Get the album for free and listen to it in 192Kbps quality

Either version comes with a .PDF of album artwork and lyrics.

To simply confine this album to Hip-Hop/Rap/Punk or whatever is restricting the overall content that it contains. It's a bombastic, ambitious collection of songs that span several genres and soundscapes while never sounding repetitive. It's beautiful, ugly, loud and in your face.

"Black History Month" opens the album and man, does it rumble. Saul opens the track with an awesome flow of lyrics that finish with a shouting chorus. The last minute of the song finishes with an acapella that continues with the lyrical flow while another voice frantically demands, "Turn up the bass!" before jumping back into the rumble that opened the song.

"Convict Colony" contains an awesome layer of drums with a low horn section that serve as an awesome background to a singing Saul. The song continues with other sounds, sirens and keyboards. This song is a perfect background for a scene of chaos, in whatever shape or form.

"Tr(n)igger" starts off and continues with a Public Enemy sample, though the interesting bites are in the lyrics. The lyrics refer to international affairs and revolutions against institutions while asking "What do you teach your children about me? What do you teach your little children about me?" The song closes with Saul shouting "WHATCHA GONNA DO?"

"Sunday Bloody Sunday" is a U2 cover and a pleasant surprise both in sound and vocals. The thing that many people don't realize is that Saul can sing in several different ways while sounding great. It's a spirited affair with a classic that the music enhances with its drums and synthesizers and help give it an awesome and unique feel.

"Break" was leaked a week before the album was released and is more than an adequate preview for this collection of songs. It's slow, synth-laced approach helps establish a steady groove before thrusting into a loud, beating chorus. The song finishes with the chant "let it out, blow it out, spit it out, get it out," which helped open the song.

"NiggyTardust" opens with the official for the man, the myth, NiggyTardust! Saul hits another lyrical flow describing NiggyTardust before jumping into the slow, groovy chorus, "When I say Niggy, you say nothin'. Niggy... Niggy... When I say Niggy, you say nothin'. Niggy-NOTHIN'! Shut up." The beat is fast with a creaking noise that flows in sync with the lyrics. This is how a wordsmith operates.

"DNA" is a slow song that features some vocal trickery that makes Saul sound like either an evil computer or Darth Vader or both, which is appropriate considering that the song deals with a master controlling his minions. The low computer noise mixed with sporadic beat help keep this one on track.

"WTF!" - "I'm fighting every war right at once and I'm winning. You can't think of me as you did in the beginning." The song starts with a slow synthy beat with a piano playing in the background while Saul soulfully sings along before leading into an epic chorus. After the second, soulful chorus, the song heads into a breakdown with fast beats and echoing, soulful voices. Trent does some vocal work on the song and it's honestly hard for me tell the difference between him and Saul, which is what made Saul's background vocals so good on Year Zero. They play very well off of each other and enhance what they're singing.

"Scared Money" is a funky song that has an excellent brass sound that has Saul starting in a low chant before hitting a higher pitch that finishes with another lyrical flow with an awesome back beat. This song definitely has a New Orleans feel to it and should be listened to while eating Jumbalaya.

"Raw" is simply that - Raw. It has a slow beat with slow vocals. Saul asks, "What's a song if you can't fuck to it?... What's the right kind of behavior that qualifies someone's savior?" It has a very submissive, curious feel to it.

"Skin of a Drum" starts with large drum hits and what sounds like chimes. Very junglish, the song continues with a lyrical flow with drone noises in the background. The background intensifies with Saul's voice in the verses before leading into a slow, dirge-like chorus with slow, awesome sounds. They sound like strings but they could very well be something else. Saul hits some interesting notes with his voice and continues to display his range. This is definitely one of my favorite songs on the album.

But nothing tops "No One Ever Does." A slow keyboard with a sad bass along with a soulful, epic performance from Saul. There's nothing that I can say to try and enhance the song because words don't do it justice. You just have to experience it for yourself.

"Banged and Blown Through," is a curious song because the meaning behind it could be numerous things. Saul sings about being broken instruments while telling a conductor that he feels electricity and asking if he can bring out the song in him. Could it be a song about movement that needs a leader or someone to orchestrate it and organize it? That's my closest guess, though I could be way off. The song contains an impressive array of soundscapes and beats that remain subtle enough so they don't hinder the rest of the song.

"Raised to Be Lowered" opens with a low, quiet beat and piano before a grinding guitar cuts in and leads into a loud, similarly grinding beat. Saul starts off on a rant about changing and adapting while learning and gaining experience before heading into a slow chorus with shouts in the background singing "There has to be another way to start the fight... Was I raised to be lowered? I was raised to be lowered."

"The Ritual" closes out the album with a faster, sporadic synth-laced beat that contains a few of the words and phrases you can't say on television. A final, direct lyrical flow continues throughout the song while the sounds expand and change with Saul's voice.

Overall, I was blown away. This album has such a high replay value that I'll be listening to it six months from now without getting tired of it. The different styles, melodies and genres help make this album's sound hard to describe while making it infectious to your ears.

On the production side, the team of Trent Reznor, Alan Moulder & Atticus Ross deliver another clean, excellent sounding album with excellent collaborations from CX Kidtronik and Thavius Beck among others. The quality is impeccable and can easily rival a 5.1 mix. Also, if you're downloading the album for free, you're missing out on the higher quality of FLAC and 320Kbps. Do yourself a favor and save the that can easily be spent on thousands of other things and get more bang for your buck by purchasing this and supporting the talented individuals who made this album possible.

It's important to note that this album is a natural progression in the sound that Saul Williams began establishing for himself early on in his career. The guy has always been all over the place and hasn't allowed himself to be restricted to one or two different genres of music. It wasn't a project that involved Trent Reznor walking up to Saul one day and telling him that he was going to make a Nine Inch Nails album with Saul on vocals instead of himself. To dismiss this album as that involves a closed mind and a certain level of unwillingness to try something new. This is an awesome, collaborative effort between two very talented individuals. It's clear that Saul has learned a few things since his last album and that Trent has helped continue his evolution as a lyricist and with developing his overall sound. That's what makes this album so good - Progression and advancement.