Saul Williams On “Selling Out”….In DC on Monday

by Winston "Stone" Ford


No doubt most of you have seen this new Nike commercial featuring Saul Williams. It’s been plastered across ESPN, and the NCAA March Madness tournament for the past couple weeks.Most people were a little concerned that Saul would let a song about reparations be used by a corporate giant like Nike, who still uses sweat shop labor in Asia. Saul went at the haters on his message board:

I have never seen a Nike ad and thought “I gotta get those shoes”, but I have thought, “who sings that? I gotta get that album”. which is to say, am I selling Nikes or is Nike selling Saul Williams albums?

I made $0 from the sales of that album….so far.

I might consider myself a sellout if I wrote a song FOR a corporation, but an ad exec asking me to use my song in their commercial, strikes me as not much different as a student asking to use my song in their film. Granted I can think of plenty of corporations that I would say no to and a couple of years ago I probably would have said no to Nike, just as I did to Mercedes (but they actually wanted me to write a poem about a car! A poem!). But, yes, I knew that Nike had made certain steps in addressing issues, which I had to research years ago as my neice, who is a formidable athlete, and daughter have both begged me for Nikes. Although I do not personally own a pair, I remember what it was like to be in junior high school. They’re both really excited about the commercial.

The commercial is damn cool, and I see this as a sacrifice for the greater good. If only a fraction of the millions of people who saw this ad would go and research the artist and maybe even go to his shows, then everybody wins. Saul gets more fans (and more money), and Nike gets to further cement its status as being a trend setter in the marketplace.

Hopefully, the dude got more from NIKE than the paltry $80,000 that Feist and Yael Naim got from Apple for their commercial endorsement.

Saul is playing the 9:30 Club on Monday, and it’s not sold out. Check out our interview with Saul Williams from 2006.

  • rafi

    80k doesn’t sound paltry to me, particularly on top of all the promotion those apple commercials gave the artists.

    How much do you think some unknown musicians should be getting for their music being in a commercial?

    At some point it would stop being financially feasible for advertisers to use the music.

  • Stone


    I know that TV commercials are the best way for an artist to get on a national and international stage, but Apple lowballed both of these artists payments because they knew that any artist would jump at the chance for the worldwide exposure that a Mac commercial would bring them.

    Depending on the artist, product and scope of the launch campaign, most artists get about $300,000 for use of their songs in commercials, so $80,000 is pretty paltry compared to what they could have gotten.

  • himalaya

    wait a minute…

    saul williams sold 28,000 copies

    28,000 x $10 = 280,000

    somebody’s gettin’ rich

    and yeah, $80,000 isn’t paltry. without apple, who in the hell would buy a yael naim record??

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  • Philduggan

    It just to me now makes his music hypocritical. To sell out your beliefs even just for exposure destroys his credibility as an artist. I dont even believe his excuse for doing it convinces himself.

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