Saul Williams – MartyrLoserKing

Album Review by Jon Davies | 12 Jan 2016
Album title: MartyrLoserKing
Artist: Saul Williams
Label: 29 Jan
Release date: Fader

2015 was the year hip-hop grew up… again. But ever since 2001’s Amethyst Rock Star (even five years prior, during his time as a slam poet of some repute), Saul Williams has been a long standing political activist, poet and musician, part of the lineage of Afrofuturists, and MartyrLoserKing is a cybernetic update of the struggle for civil liberties which has reared its head in America, across the world and online, once more.

The lyrical themes are ambitious, attempting to tie together Trayvon Martin to Edward Snowden to the Arab Spring, with lead track Burundi (featuring Warpaint's Emily Kokal on backing vocal) swiping virtual into reality with ‘hacker, I’m a hacker runnin through your hard drive,’ proclaiming that the 'we' of the underground is on the precipice of power.

Williams also tackles mass data breach and the watchful eye of surveillance through the constant repetitions of ‘5 million followers’ on Roach Eggs; exacerbated by choice of framing, his point is made as if grappling with a zeitgeist he doesn’t fully understand. Williams’ songwriting approach, while accomplished and still urgent, occasionally loses some of its ferocity and connection to the theme by playing to his game a bit too much; relying on that trademark electro-rock production instead of mutating contemporary trap and noise feels like a slight misstep.

Nevertheless, 14 years into his recorded career and still sounding this eloquently pissed off with the world, Saul Williams is not short on spark. MartyLoserKing is the ‘annotated middle finger’, wise and strong enough to reinvigorate those who thought rap had lost its conscience.