Saul Williams On Modern Day Martyrs & Evolution Of Political Movements

Brilliance. It’s a word we use a lot to acknowledge higher levels of thinking. But more than being game changing or thought provoking it’s refreshing when someone’s words actually shed light on obscured corners. Making connections before unseen. In our conversation with Saul Williams about this new album Martyr Loser King he always found a way to tangentially incorporate something that didn’t seem immediately relevant, but by the time he was done there was nice, shiny jewel sitting there wrapped in a bow. He took some of my rather pedestrian questions and rightfully took us on a journey across boarders and dogmas.

RELATED: Saul Williams On Donald Trump: “We Get The Leaders We Deserve”

In our videos he shares the inspiration for the title Martyr Loser King and his multi-layered understanding of martyrdom.


Because we know your data plans won’t always let you stream with impunity, we’ve shared his thoughts on Martrydom in text form until you can get to reliable wi-fi.

“I think of Martyrs as the other 1 percent. What I mean by that is there are many people who I could classify in a sense as a martyr without them having been killed. They’re alive. Basically I’m thinking of people who give their lives to the service of humanity. The service of the greater good. Who make that sort of sacrifice, from a Mother Theresa to a Mandela or a Malala (Yousafzai)…there are individuals who say I’m dedicating my life to this, I could cash in on this and make money but instead I’ve dedicated my life to the upliftment of humanity. That’s one layer of martyrdom. 

Within that realm you have people who make that decision and there is risk involved and are killed in accordance with those choices, like (Benazir) Bhutto out of Pakistan or (Steve)Biko or Thomas Sankara, those are people who gave their lives, were involved in politics and fought for the people and were killed for that decision.

Then you have the unwilling Martyrs who become the symbolic representations of a cause like the Tamir Rices, the Michael Browns, all of the people who have been martyred by the police—and not only the police, by gun violence—their life is used to represent some sort of cause or movement or stir some sort of movement so that we can speak up against or through that cause.

Then, and the other thing that is also prevalent today, are those who use the idea of being a martyr in order to project violence. Those are the people that the media would label as terrorists and those are the people who misconstrue religious ideology and ancient text into somehow thinking it means that in order for them to bring about justice they need to sacrifice their lives and the lives of those around them to in order to make a statement. And that is the form of martyrdom that I reject. Just as I reject the idea of someone needing to be martyred like a Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered for the sake of our achievement as a community, nation or culture. You’ll find that theme for example in the song “Burundi” where I reference a poem by the Sufi poet Rumi where he says ‘I’m a candle. Chop my neck a million times I still burn bright and stand.’ Which is to say that the modern idea of movements like in hashtag movements—-what is amazing about the Arab Spring, The Occupy Movement and Black Lives Matter is that there is no actual leader. So you can’t stop the movement by killing one person or chopping off the head of its leader because everybody is leading in their own way. That’s something I like about the evolution of movements in this day and age. The collective leadership and movement. 

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