By Treavian Simmons
Saul Williams is unapologetically black. Within his music, he combines elements of rap, electronic, dance and punk music (all genres that began as dissidents of other genres and started by minorities as counteraction to their mainstream counterparts) to create a swirling combination of Afrocentric protest music. MartyrLoserKing is no exception; he continues to combine these elements to speak on his view of the world, his political leanings and to enact cries of pain and change all within the same breath. His role as a musician, actor and poet all align with his ideas of revolution for members of the Black race and other minority groups affected by supremacist, patriarchal cultures. MartyrLoserKing does this while still retaining an air of accessibility, despite some sonic confusion that lies within.
Many of the songs here feature chants or mantras that feel perfectly suited to the many black voices who walk the streets every day in protest of their oppressions. Lyrics scan from relatively simple (“Girl, boy / we seek joy / we hurt none / we heart hope” from ‘Think Like They Book Say’) to more aggressive and layered in context, though still as direct and every bit as powerful (“The sirens and your guns / you know we paid for it all” from ‘The Noise Came From Here’). All of his lyrics are placed against a rough, lo-fi, almost industrial backdrop as synths cut through Saul’s distorted melodies and drums pound in the distance. The album never adheres to standard rap tropes and even when songs could have fit into the newer era of conscious rap (the cadence of “Down For Some Ignorance”, the Billie Holiday referencing “Horn Of The Clock-Bike”), Saul eschews it for his own idiosyncratic performance style.
His idiosyncrasies, however strong, do occasionally get in the way. The opener, “Groundwork” is fairly slow to start and doesn’t build to much of a conclusion and a handful of the songs do blur together because of their sonic similarities. Despite this, there is consistency and comfort in these personally political songs, and when the match strikes on MartyrLoserKing, everything around it is set aflame. Saul Williams has vocal presence to spare, and reminds me of lead singer powerhouses like Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone of TV On The Radio, as well as Franklin James Fisher of Algiers. MartyrLoserKing isn’t perfect, much like some of his aforementioned contemporaries and their respective albums, but there’s power in every imperfection Saul Williams delivers. There is strength in his chants, and MartyrLoserKing may just prove to be an important rallying cry against the backdrop of our current political fervor.