Saul Williams

Saul Williams appears as part of the Sno-Core tour with Karl Denson, Blackalicious, and Ozomatli at the Senator Theater in Chico on Thursday, March 28.

Most people know Saul Williams as a champion slam poet or from his starring role in the acclaimed prison film, Slam. Williams is an intense black man with a knack for slick-flowing verbal assaults (devastatingly punctuated), falling firmly in the tradition of Gil-Scott Heron and The Last Poets.

Having grown up heavily influenced by hip-hop concerned with political and social messages (Public Enemy, Jungle Bros, Rakim), Williams makes a wild foray here into a diverse selection of urban musical styles. From old-school hip-hop influence to drum and bass, London trip hop vibe to raw soul (on the surprising “Wine,” one of the album’s best tracks), Amethyst offers varying results but consistent intensity and thought-provoking lyrics.

Topics range from the role of African-American father figures to the deterioration of American cultural values under the onslaught of corporate greed. An enflamed preacher, Williams packs so much verbal content into these songs that they can become daunting—but he obviously has skills and plenty of vision to develop should he pursue future songwriting.

My main complaint here would be that, musically, he tries to pull too many things together at once—"legendary" producer Rick Rubin may be partly responsible.