Saul Williams

Saul Williams' credentials don't hint at anyone you'd expect to associate with a genre as innocuous as pop music. After all, the outspoken wordplay wizard cut his teeth as the MC offspring of black activists, rose to prominence via the slam-poetry circuit, is a published and uncompromising poet, and gave his 2007 album the discomforting-to-say-aloud title The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust! Over the years, Williams has collaborated with Trent Reznor, Rage Against the Machine's Zack de la Rocha, and System of a Down's Serj Tankian — all well-known names, yes, but none that smack of pop. Still, Williams used a recent interview to characterize his recent Volcanic Sunlight as a "pop album," even if "only because of the structure." Considering its creator's taste for experimental, jury-rigged beats, Volcanic actually does embrace elements of the pop idiom. The "Funky Town"-like "Dance," delicate soul croon showcase "Fall Up," and goofy, synth-y shoulder-shaker "Girls Have More Fun" easily share room with more agitated and classically Williams numbers such as "Explain My Heart" and the title track. Volcanic might not have a barn-burning surprise to match Tardust's cover of U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday," but the record's bravery and versatility make it captivating regardless.

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