Book Review: Saul Williams' The Dead Emcee Scrolls: The Lost Teachings of Hip Hop


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???America is the richest country in the world because it was built for free???
-Saul Williams

Saul Williams has made a lifetime of a career in just under a decade. The poet/actor made his highly recognizable debut in 1998???s Slam which included other well known Slam poets such as Sonja Sohn, Beau Sia and DC???s own DJ Renegade. Williams went on to author three books, The Seventh Octave, S???he, and , said the shotgun to the head and put out two music albums, Amethyst Rock Star in 2001 and his self-titled album in 2004. His videos have been seen on MTV2 and all across the Internet. In 2005, along with Catchdubs, he released Real Niggery, Vol. 1, a mixtape that remixed Williams' self titled with some of the hottest and well known beats. It also went under the title Poetry Funds Terrorism

In the opening pages of his new book The Dead Emcee Scrolls (which was released at the end of January), Saul Williams writes:

I have paraded as a poet for years now. In the process of parading I may have actually become one, but that???s another story, another book. This book is a book that I have been waiting to finish since 1995. This is the book that finished me. The story I am about to tell may sound fantastic. It may anger some of you who have followed my work. You may feel that you have come to know me over the years, and in some cases you have, but in others???well this is a confession.

He launches into a story, his story, of being lead to an abandoned subway station in which remain the remnants of graffiti???s days gone by. He finds a spray paint can filled with pages of unintelligible text, which after some time he translates and discovers to be the lost writings of Hip Hop. The verses read like that of a holy scripture or the lyric sheets of a young rapper. The words have their place in either King Solomon???s Song of Songs or Notorious B.I.G???s Ready To Die.


The words are all familiar???allusions, illusions, and images all similar to ones previously used in Saul Williams??? work. The question that keeps coming to mind is the question of what is the real truth: Is Saul Williams a genius who can make us believe such a fantastical story? Or is he admitting to plagiarizing the words of an unknown mythical hip hopper, one who knew the future as much as the past? The poems themselves are not new to many Saul Williams fans. Some he used as basis for songs on both Amethyst Rock Star (???Untimely Meditations,??? ???1987,??? and ???Co-Dead Languages???) and his self-titled album (parts of ???Telegram to Hip Hop???). Reading the poems in the book while listening to the tracks and Saul Williams??? own voice reading them, I got shivers. Whether or not you believe Williams??? confession, it should be noted that there is something more going on than just a poet’s words.

The poems reference hip hop, pop culture, yet also use imagery from biblical sources (both Old and New Testaments), Ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman mythology, Five Percenter philosophy, African and African American history, astrology, art history???the list of allusions go on. In a sense, they combine all the sources that do indeed make up the basis for not only hip hop, but also for the anonymous writer???s own personal history. It begs the question of who this writer is, what their gender is, what time period they are writing from, etc.

The perception within the poetry changes so much throughout the book, that it becomes hard to say whether Williams (if he is indeed the writer) is writing from personal experience or invoking the spirits of other emcees. Some things can be read once and understood. Most stanzas need to be read twice for their meaning. Other parts hold different significances for different readers.

Williams is a prophet for a generation lost within the mediocrity of mainstream pop culture. He understands what it means to be revolutionary, political and yet still be published by MTV. His quotability is part of his charm. He makes his highly controversial words accessible to the greater public by making them memorable. Those to whom he speaks hear him loud and clear. His latest work only emphasizes the need for a reckoning from the past, one that not only reminds hip hop of where it has been but also for where it is going.

For more info on Saul Williams, check these sites out:

Saul Williams' Website
Saul Williams on MySpace

Buy The Dead Emcee Scrolls at:

MTV Books @