Saul Williams

Saul Williams

Saul Williams performing live in 2012
Background information
Birth name Saul Stacey Williams
Born (1972-02-29) February 29, 1972
Newburgh, New York, United States
  • Rapper
  • singer-songwriter
  • musician
  • poet
  • writer
  • actor
Instruments Vocals
Labels American Recordings, Fader Label, Wichita, Big Dada
Associated acts

Saul Stacey Williams (born February 29, 1972) is an American rapper, singer-songwriter, musician, poet, writer, and actor. He is known for his blend of poetry and alternative hip hop, and for his lead roles in the 1998 film Slam and Holler If Ya Hear Me, a Broadway musical featuring music by Tupac Shakur.

Early life

The youngest of three children, Williams was born in Newburgh, New York. He attended Newburgh Free Academy, where he wrote his song "Black Stacey". After graduating from Morehouse College with a BA in acting and philosophy, he moved to New York City to earn an MFA in acting from New York University's Graduate Acting Program at the Tisch School of the Arts.[3][4] While there, he found himself at the center of the New York café poetry scene. He also lived in Brazil as an exchange student from 1988 to 1989.



Williams live at SXSW 2008

By 1995, Williams had become an open mic poet; in 1996, he won the title of Nuyorican Poets Cafe's Grand Slam Champion. The documentary film SlamNation follows Williams and the other members of the 1996 Nuyorican Poets Slam team (Beau Sia, muMs da Schemer, and Jessica Care Moore) as they compete in the 1996 National Poetry Slam held in Portland, Oregon. The following year, Williams landed the lead role in the 1998 feature film Slam. Williams featured as both a writer and actor on the film,[5] which would win both the Sundance Festival Grand Jury Prize and the Cannes Camera D'Or (Golden Camera).[6]


NiggyTardust! tour, Montreal (2008)

Around 1998, Williams was also breaking into music. He had performed with such artists as Nas, The Fugees, Christian Alvarez, Blackalicious, Erykah Badu, KRS-One, Zack De La Rocha, De La Soul, and DJ Krust, as well as poets Allen Ginsberg and Sonia Sanchez. After releasing a string of EPs, he released the LP Amethyst Rock Star with producer Rick Rubin in 2001. In September 2004, he released his self-titled album to much acclaim. He played several shows supporting Nine Inch Nails on their European tour in summer 2005, and has also supported The Mars Volta. Williams was invited to the Lollapalooza music festival around that time, and the Chicago stage allowed Williams to attract a wider audience. He appeared on the Nine Inch Nails album Year Zero, and supported the group on their 2006 tour of North America. On the tour, Williams announced that Trent Reznor would co-produce his next album.[7]

This collaboration resulted in 2007's The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust!. The album was available only from its website until a physical CD was issued, featuring new tracks and extended album artwork.[8] The first 100,000 customers on the website had the option to download a free lower-quality audio version of the album. The other option was for users to pay $5 to support the artist directly and be given the choice of downloading the higher-quality MP3 version or the lossless FLAC version. The material was produced by Trent Reznor and mixed by Alan Moulder. It was Reznor who said, after his own recent dealings with record labels, that they should release it independently and directly to the audience.[9]

In early 2008, a Nike Sparq Training commercial featured Williams' song "List of Demands (Reparations)". In a November 2008 interview with, Williams talked about his forthcoming projects: "There's one album that I'm waist-deep into. I'm aiming to finish it up next month. Trent wants to work on a sequel for Niggy that I think would be cool, and I also have an album and new songs demoed at home that I'm ready to go into the studio and lay down. It’s a complete reflection of how I feel in this country; it's a very transformative time."[10]

Williams' fourth album, Volcanic Sunlight, was released on November 11, 2011. Williams showcased the album at London's Hoxton Bar Kitchen on January 26, 2011. Livemusic interviewed Williams on the evening and made a subsequent film, produced by artist Alex Templeton-Ward. When Williams was asked what the point of poetry was, he said: "I'm making this up, I have no idea but here we go. I think that it would be to express, to share, to relieve, to explore. For me, poetry offers some what of a cathartic experience. I am able to move through emotions and emotional experience particularly, you know, break-ups, difficulties in all the things that I may face, whether that is with an industry or a loved one or whomever, there needs to be an infiltration process, like you have a window open over there. That is the purpose of poetry: it is the window that opens, that allows some air in, some other insight, some other possibility so we can explore all that we feel, all that we think but with the space to see more than what we know, because there is so much more than we know. If I didn't open myself to the possibilities of the unknown, then I would be lost."

Williams' fifth album, MartyrLoserKing, was released on January 29, 2016.


As a writer, Williams has been published in The New York Times, Esquire, Bomb Magazine, and African Voices, as well as releasing four collections of poetry. As a poet and musician, Williams has toured and lectured across the world, appearing at many universities and colleges. In his interview in the book Words in Your Face: A Guided Tour Through Twenty Years of the New York City Poetry Slam, Williams explained why he creates within so many genres: "It's not that I balance those arts out, all the different arts balance me out. So, that there is a certain type of emotion that is more easily accessible through music than poetry... some things are meant to be written, some are meant to be sung, some things are meant to be hummed, some things are made to be yelled, and so that's just how life works."[11]

In January 2009, he released NGH WHT The Dead Emcee Scrolls with The Arditti Quartet, a reading of his 2006 poetry book of the same name. This collaboration with Thomas Kessler (who also set Williams' spoken-word track ",said the shotgun to the head" to music) was released with two payment options: listeners could download chapters 18 to 22 of the 27-minute composition in MP3 format for free, or could download the entire 33-chapter composition in lossless AIFF format for $6, along with the isolated vocal and quartet multitracks. The entire paid download totalled in size at 563 megabytes.[12] Williams contributed to two tracks on the 2011 album Baba Love by Arthur H.[13]


On film Williams has starred in Slam (1998), and Today (2012). On stage Williams was chosen for the lead role in Holler If Ya Hear Me, a Broadway musical featuring music by Tupac Shakur. Though it features Shakur's music, the musical is not about his life. It is an original script written by Todd Kreidler. Rolling Stone described the production as "the first hip-hop jukebox musical in Broadway history".[14] The show opened on June 19, 2014.[15] Williams' role in the musical landed him an interview on The Colbert Report, where he spoke about his career and performed a poem entitled "Amethyst Rocks".[16]

Personal life

Williams is a vegan.[17] He is a vocal critic of the War on Terrorism and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.[18] Among his better-known works are the anti-war anthems "Not in My Name" and "Act III Scene 2 (Shakespeare)". In 2011, he added his name to Occupy Musicians, supporting the worldwide Occupy movement against income inequality.[19] He identifies as queer.[20]

Williams and Marcia Jones, a visual artist and art professor,[21] began their relationship in 1995 as collaborative artists on the Brooklyn performance art and spoken word poetry circuit. Their daughter, Saturn, was born in 1996.[22] A collection of poems by Williams entitled S/HE is a series of reflections on the demise of his relationship with Jones.[23] Jones created the cover artwork for The Seventh Octave, images throughout S/HE in response to Williams, and set-designed his 2001 album Amethyst Rock Star. Saturn performed with her father on his 2008 concert tour.[24][25] Williams also has a son named Xuly.[26]

On February 29, 2008 (his 36th birthday), Williams married actress Persia White, his girlfriend of five years. They met in 2003 when he made a guest appearance on the TV show Girlfriends.[27][28] On January 17, 2009, White announced via her Myspace blog that she and Williams were no longer together.[29]

He is now married to a Rwandan-born woman. He recently lived in Paris for four years but now resides in Los Angeles.[30]


Williams playing the bass at SXSW 2008

Studio albums

Compilation albums



Guest appearances

List of guest appearances
Title Year Other performer(s) Album
"Coded Language" 1999 Krust Coded Language
"Monkey Theme" 2000 The Infesticons Gun Hill Road
"Release" 2002 Blackalicious, Zack de la Rocha, Lyrics Born, Sela Kerr Blazing Arrow
"Playing House" Tre Hardson Liberation
"Sent from Sandy Shores" 2003 Adventure Time Dreams of Water Themes
"Time (Jungle)" (Temple of Soul Mix) Wax Poetic Nublu Sessions
"Freedom" 2004 Karl Denson's Tiny Universe N/A
"Three Fingers" 2005 Buckethead & Friends Enter the Chicken
"Sea Lion" (Extended version) Sage Francis, Will Oldham, Alias N/A
"Lyrical Gunplay" 2006 Thavius Beck Thru
"Mr. Nichols" Coldcut Sound Mirrors
"April Showers, April Tears" Stuart Davis N/A
"Said the Shotgun to the Head" Thomas Kessler Thomas Kessler
"Survivalism" (backing vocals) 2007 Nine Inch Nails Year Zero
"Me, I'm Not" (backing vocals)
"Gunshots by Computer" Year Zero Remixed
"Easter" 2009 Stuart Davis Sex, God, Rock 'n Roll: Songs from the TV Series
"U Can Do It" 2010 Maeckes Kids
"Dance or Die" Janelle Monáe The ArchAndroid
"Black Intro" Vic Mensa Straight Up
"Le Paradis II Est Chinois" 2011 Arthur H Baba Love
"Believe" Ayọ Billie-Eve
"Rendez-Nous L'Argent" 2014 Nevche Rétroviseur
"Money God" 2015 Haleek Maul Prince Midas
"Imperial Sound" 2016 Torae Entitled
"The Virus" A Tribe Called Red, Chippewa Travellers We Are the Halluci Nation



Williams in 2005




  1. Adams, Gregory (December 21, 2011). "Saul Williams to Take 'Volcanic Sunlight' on North American Tour". Exclaim!. Retrieved December 28, 2015.
  2. Kot, Greg (June 16, 2013). "Kanye West's 'Yeezus' an uneasy listen". Chicago Tribune. Chicago: Tony W. Hunter. Archived from the original on August 20, 2013. Retrieved June 17, 2013.
  3. "NYU Graduate Acting Alumni". 2011. Retrieved 2011-12-08.
  4. Sheppard, Ferrari. "Saul William Interview". Retrieved 2010-05-06.
  5. Aptowicz, Cristin O'Keefe. (2008). Words in Your Face: A Guided Tour Through Twenty Years of the New York City Poetry Slam. Soft Skull Press, p. 226. ISBN 1-933368-82-9.
  6. "IMDB Awards page for Slam". Retrieved 2016-03-03.
  7. "Saul Williams recording with Trent/Atticus". The NIN Hotline. March 13, 2006. Retrieved 2008-01-10.
  8. "Interview: Saul Williams". Archived from the original on April 27, 2008. Retrieved May 9, 2008.
  9. "Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) produced album by Saul Williams yours for zero dollar". Archived from the original on April 28, 2008. Retrieved November 1, 2007.
  10. "One Year Later, Saul Williams Talks Niggy Tardust's Wins, What's Next | WIRED". 2008-11-11. Retrieved 2016-03-03.
  11. Aptowicz (2008), Words in Your Face, p. 229.82-9.
  12. "NGH WHT - Dead Emcee Scrolls with The Arditti Quartet". Retrieved 2016-03-03.
  13. "En studio avec Arthur H et Saul Williams". Archived from the original on November 15, 2011. Retrieved November 9, 2011.
  14. Weingarten, Christopher (June 9, 2014). "Hip-Hop's first jukebox musical debuts: tupac's "holler if ya hear me"". Rolling Stone. Retrieved June 13, 2014.
  15. "Holler If Ya Hear Me". Retrieved June 13, 2014.
  16. "Saul Williams Talks 'Holler If Ya Hear Me' & Performs "Amethyst Rocks" On The Colbert Report". Retrieved June 16, 2014.
  17. "Saul Williams Makes A Heartfelt Argument For Going Vegan". ecorazzi. Retrieved 2009-04-11.
  18. "Interview with Saul Williams Loserdom #13". Loserdom zine. Retrieved 2008-07-02.
  19. Michaels, Sean (November 22, 2011). "Lou Reed and Tom Morello support Occupy movement with new website. Pair are among first signatories of Occupy Musicians, a campaign supporting movement against income inequality". London: The Guardian. Retrieved September 7, 2012.
  20. Timberg, Scott (June 2, 2016). "How Saul Williams found courage: "Prince and Bowie liberated me as an artist to be queer"". Salon. Retrieved October 15, 2016.
  21. "Marcia Jones : Artist". Archived from the original on January 3, 2014. Retrieved January 7, 2014.
  22. "Marcia Jones". Nat Creole. Retrieved 2008-08-18.
  23. "Lollapalloza Report". Pitchfork. Archived from the original on August 18, 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-18.
  24. "SAUL WILLIAMS: THE FAMILY MAN - Black Celebrity Kids". Retrieved 2016-03-03.
  25. "Feeding sheep : photo image" (JPG). Retrieved 2016-03-03.
  26. "Persia White attending the The 19th Annual Genesis Awards - Arrivals and VIP Reception held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, CA on 3/19/2005 | SGG-059590". 2005-03-19. Retrieved 2016-03-03.
  27. "Love Life and Friendship". Retrieved 2009-01-18.
  28. Fox, Killian (17 April 2016). "Saul Williams: 'The bullshit lyricists have the catchiest hooks '". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 July 2016.
  29. Leight, Elias (December 18, 2015). "Saul Williams Shares "The Noise Came From Here"". The Fader. Retrieved December 28, 2015.
  30. Williams, Saul (January 1, 2011). "Chorus (9781451649833): Saul Williams: Books". Retrieved 2012-02-26.
  31. Williams, Saul. "US (a.) (9781451649833): Saul Williams: Books". Retrieved 2016-04-28.
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