“Niggy Tardust is about what it means to look at history and the present as a whole, as opposed to running away in disgust or bowing one’s head in guilt — saying ‘yes’ to all that has been, in full acknowledgement; saying ‘yes, all of those things convene in me….”Saul Williams
For anyone who has yet to listen, The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust is an absolutely amazing collaboration between Saul and Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. Saul has always been known for his post-conventional approach to Hip Hop, and nowhere does this come through more than on this album. It is truly a trans-genre masterpiece, perfectly blending Saul’s powerful vocals with the industrial “wall of sound” orchestration that has come to define Nine Inch Nails. But even more impressive than Saul’s impulse to transcend genre is his ability to use art to transform and transcend identity itself, breaking through the self-imposed limitations of the finite self, and opening to the clear, limitless consciousness at the heart of this and every moment.
This move toward more freedom and more fullness is, of course, a gradual process, and one that requires a tremendous amount of practice. For Saul, performance is that practice—whether it’s acting, poetry, or music, performance is a place where the phoenix can cycle through its own creation and destruction, losing itself and finding itself again and again through greater and greater degrees of identity and awareness. Art has always been Saul’s primary path of transcendence, and has led him through some of the most extraordinary experiences available to human consciousness—from “me” to man, from man to black man, from black man to human being, and from human being to just one of an infinite number of masks God wears to make existence a little more interesting.
In this talk, Saul describes his creative process while recording Niggy Tardust, and how he has been able to turn his life on and off the stage into a sort of “walking meditation,” so that he can harness all of the energy from performance, and focus it all into his creativity while working on the new album. He also discusses the connection between his poetry and his dancing, using his body to dictate the rhythms and cadence of his voice, whether he is rapping, singing, or reciting. By consciously bringing Spirit, mind, and body into mutual synchrony, we can open ourselves to a vast field of creative potential—and by creating from this transcendent space, the very same consciousness can be directly transmitted through artistic performance, as artist, artwork, and audience melt together into an absolutely singular experience, effortlessly unhindered by the this and that of dualistic thinking.
“Great art,” says Ken, “is both great content and great delivery.” This certainly applies to Saul’s performance, and to his ability to cultivate not only amazing things to say, but also amazing ways to say them—but this phrase also perfectly describes the methods by which Saul is releasing the album to the world. In a nearly unprecedented move, Saul and Trent made Niggy Tardust available to download for free, with an optional $5 donation to download a higher-quality version of the album. A well-timed reaction to the dismal state of the music industry, this experimental means of distribution may in fact be heralding a whole new age of content delivery—whereas the “Dick Clark” model of the industry may have once been entirely necessary, it is obviously ill-suited for the 21st century, and is beginning to crumble under its own monolithic weight. As Ken has mentioned before, when a system becomes unable to meet the needs of the changing world around it, it experiences a “legitimacy crisis” and initiates its own form of an Inquisition. Thus, the modern-day Inquisitors (e.g. the R.I.A.A.) attempt to tighten their grasp, filing lawsuits against people sharing music online, often including children, and even the deceased. There is no telling what form the music industry will take in the future, once it has adapted to the problems and possibilities of the information age; nor can we prophesy how up-and-coming artists will be able to market themselves without the current industry, but it is probably safe to say that the future will more closely resemble Saul and Trent’s ideas more than it will the form it has taken for the past several decades.
Written by Corey W. deVos
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About Saul Williams
Saul Williams is a poet, actor, activist, writer and musician who engages each of these forms equally, with both aggression and compassion. He is a man deeply concerned with the people's well-being and it shows in his work.
About Ken Wilber
Ken Wilber is a preeminent scholar of the Integral stage of human development. He is an internationally acknowledged leader, founder of Integral Institute, and co-founder of Integral Life. Ken is the originator of arguably the first truly comprehensive or integrative world philosophy, aptly named “Integral Theory”.