Perhaps it’s fitting that of all the categories at this year’s mtvU Woodie Awards, rapper/actor/author/activist Saul Williams was nominated for the one award given to the artist who best defies categorization.
Williams was up against Hasidic hip-hopper Matisyahu, Sri Lankan MC M.I.A., Canadian orchestral-pop ensemble the Arcade Fire and Christian proto-punks Me Without You in the Left Field category, given to the genre-busting artist who, according to mtvU, “came out of left field and surprised us so much, we’d still have no idea what section of the record store to look for them in” (see “My Chemical Romance Win Woodie Of The Year At mtvU Awards” ).
It may be fitting, but it’s also somewhat unfortunate for Williams, who’s been fighting classification ever since 1998, when his starring role in the drama “Slam” had film critics pegging him as the next Denzel Washington. In 2001, when he released the politically charged Amethyst Rock Star, it was the music critics who tried to label him, this time as a sort of coffeehouse Chuck D. And when he dropped his self-titled follow-up last year, he was being touted as the next great neo-soul star.
But through it all, Williams refused to be put in any particular box. And he’s still refusing now, as he hits the road with the most unlikely of musical partners, Louisville, Kentucky, granola-rockers My Morning Jacket (see “Cameron Crowe Requests My Morning Jacket ‘Freebird’ For Film” ).
“It seems like there’s such a glaring polarization right now between what seems to be ‘black’ and ‘white’ music. A few years ago, groups like Outkast and Jay-Z seemed to bring people together, but now it’s so different,” Williams said. “So now I think the most interesting thing to do on tours is to try and bring worlds that seem disconnected together. And I say ‘seem disconnected’ because in reality, we’re just people vibing off the music you vibe off. So I’m very excited about touring with them.”
Williams also makes a rather unexpected appearance on the soundtrack to box-office-topping gore-fest “Saw II,” on a song called “Three Fingers,” which he (sort of) recorded with mucho-mysterious masked guitarist Buckethead.
“[System of a Down frontman] Serj Tankian got the whole thing to happen. He did a track on my album, and we’re friends, so he asked me if I wanted to do a song with Buckethead,” Williams explained. “I went into the studio, heard the music, wrote to it and recorded my vocals all in one day. Bucket wasn’t even there. In fact, I haven’t actually met Buckethead yet.”