Saul Williams Remembers “Coded Language” 15 Years Later

What is hip-hop? It’s a question that gets asked with increasing frequency as the genre evolves. But it is also one that has been asked almost since its inception, and few have answered it better than Saul Williams. On May 8, 2001 he released his debut album Amethyst Rockstar co-produced by the legendary Rick Rubin and released on his American Records label. At the time it was the culmination of a career which included being a Nuyorican Poets Cafe Grand Slam Champion in 1996 and starring in the 1998 feature film Slam. Amethyst was buoyed by Saul’s dense wordplay and experimental production birthing gems like “Robeson” and the clarion call “Coded Language,” which explored, among other things, the metaphysics of sampling.

Whereas, breakbeats have been the missing link connecting the diasporic
Community to its drum woven past/
Whereas the quantized drum has allowed the whirling mathematicians to
Calculate the ever changing distance between rock and stardom
Whereas the velocity of the spinning vinyl, cross-faded, spun backwards, and
Re-released at the same given moment of recorded history , yet at a
Different moment in time’s continuum has allowed history to catch up with
The present…

Saul Williams performed the track on HBO’s “Def Poetry Jam” in 2004 reading the words off of a seven foot long parchment scroll and today it couldn’t be more relevant.

“‘Coded Language’ is a manifesto that I wrote [and] I will always feel aligned with what’s said there,” Williams told WatchLOUD.com earlier this year when he came to discuss his new album, Martyr, Loser, King.  “‘Motherfuckers better realize/ now is the time to self-actualize’ it’s all that I’m saying to this day.”

“That is a declarative statement on, one, a generation…What excites me and has excited me in the past, during that time in particular about hip-hop, was that it was fresh. And I thought that we were making mistakes by trying to define it too early…When I was writing ‘Coded Language’ I was very into trying to articulate a more open definition of the art form, the era, the times.”

In Saul’s reflecting on the poem and hip-hop in particular he breaks down what he calls a “Shamanistic Alchemy” between West African drumming and music of North America’s indigenous nations that birthed this new groove.

“I think of the fact that this music was created on this continent and that in fact it seems to be like an exchange between these two ideas…this conversation between dense drumming and sparse drumming that creates the Funk or that space between the beats that’s particular to this experience…”

If your eyes are still in your head watch the full video above.

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