"A profound poet who inspires us. He challenges us to be individuals." Russell Simmons
The Dead Emcee Scrolls: The Lost Teachings of Hip-Hop and Connected Writingby Saul Williams
In the underground labyrinths of New York City's subway system, beneath the third rail of a long forgotten line, Saul Williams discovered scrolls of aged yellowish-brown paper rolled tightly into a can of spray paint. His quest to decipher this mystical ancient text resulted in a primal understanding of the power hip-hop has to teach us about ourselves and the
In the underground labyrinths of New York City's subway system, beneath the third rail of a long forgotten line, Saul Williams discovered scrolls of aged yellowish-brown paper rolled tightly into a can of spray paint. His quest to decipher this mystical ancient text resulted in a primal understanding of the power hip-hop has to teach us about ourselves and the universe around us.
Now, for the first time, Saul Williams shares with the world the wonder revealed to him by the Dead Emcee Scrolls.
I have paraded as a poet for years now. In the proc ess 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.
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Read an Excerpt
There is no music more powerful than hip-hop. No other music so purely demands an instant affirmative on such a global scale. When the beat drops, people nod their heads, "yes," in the same way that they would in conversation with a loved one, a parent, professor, or minister. Instantaneously, the same mechanical gesture that occurs in moments of dialogue as a sign of agreement which subsequently, releases increased oxygen to the brain and, thus, broadens one's ability to understand, becomes the symbolic and actual gesture that connects you to the beat. No other musical form has created such a raw and visceral connection to the heart while still incorporating various measures from other musical forms that then appeal to other aspects of the emotional core of an individual. Music speaks directly to the subconscious. The consciously simplified beat of the hip-hop drum speaks directly to the heart. The indigenous drumming of continental Africa is known to be primarily dense and quite often up-tempo. The drumming of the indigenous Americas, on the other hand, in its most common representation is primarily sparse and down-tempo. What happens when you put a mixer and cross-fader between those two cultural realities? What kind of rhythms and polyrhythms might you come up with? Perhaps one complex yet basic enough to synchronize the hearts of an entire generation.
To program a drumbeat is to align an external rhythmic device to an individual's biorhythm. I remember being introduced to the hip hop/electronica sub-genre, drum and bass, by one of its pioneers, Goldie. I accompanied him to his DJ set at the London club, the Blue Note. After about an hour of him staring straight into my eyes, gold teeth glaring, miming or pointing to every invisible, yet highly audible, bass line, kick, snare, and high hat, he took me outside and instructed me to monitor my heartbeat so that I might note that the intensity of the music in the club had actually sped it up so that my heart was, now, pounding a sort of high speed drum and bass metronome. I had been re-programmed (note: it was a high-speed wireless connection). Did it affect how I thought? I don't know, but surely, the potential was there. The music of that night had been mostly without lyrics. But if there were lyrics, could they have affected me on a subconscious level in the same way that the music itself had affected me on a subatomic level? Who knows? What I do know is that I have been a hip hop head for years. I have nodded my head to the music that initially affirmed my existence as an African American male. And then, of course, as the music grew more openly misogynistic and capitalistic, I found myself being a bit more picky about exactly what I would choose to nod my head to. It was difficult. Sometimes the beats were undeniable. Regardless, even though I always sensed the power of the music, even though I remember the few hip-hop songs that brought tears to my eyes because they went beyond speaking of the power of the music and hinted at the power of our generation, nothing, absolutely nothing could have prepared me for the story that I am about to share.
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.
I came to New York in 1994, having just graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, where I had majored in philosophy and drama. I was about to begin my first year in the graduate acting program at NYU. I was very excited. I had been planning my career as an actor my entire life and everything was going exactly as planned. Because I could study drama in school, it was never simply a hobby for me; it was a professional choice. On the other hand, I had been rapping for as long as I had been acting, but rapping was never something I could study in school. It was extra curricular. I wrote rhymes between classes (and often during). I battled at lunchtime and recess. It was my favorite past time.
Time passed and by the time I graduated from college I no longer wrote rhymes. I was becoming more focused on acting. Yet, the time that I once spent writing rhymes was now spent listening and critiquing hip-hop. I was a purist. I saw my list of the top ten emcees as the list. I could talk hip-hop all day. And not just the music, the culture. I had been a breakdancer and had even spent part of my time in Atlanta dancing for an up-and-coming rap group. Junior high and high school had been hardly more than a fashion show for me: Lee suits, name belts, name rings, fat laces, you name it. Growing up just an hour outside of New York City had kept me feverishly close to the culture. We always did our back to school shopping on Farmers Boulevard in the Bronx, 8th Street in Manhattan, Dr. Jays in Harlem, Delancey, Orchard and any other place mentioned in classic hip-hop songs to make sure we were never behind the trends. I'm tempted to list the color of my sheep skin, Pumas, shell toes, Lottos, Filas, how many Lees I had, sewed in creases, fat laces, name rings, truck jewelry. What?! Unfuckwitable. Its really the only reason why despite any career success I may experience I hardly bling. I blang.
I never really tried to DJ, but I definitely tried my hand as a graffiti writer. I was never any good, but I always had the utmost respect for any kid that could "write," as we used to say. I used to watch my cousin Duce and my man Sergio practice their alphabet everyday. As graff writers they knew that every aspect of their writing had to be original. They would transform their letters into highly stylistic, barely legible testaments of ghetto inventiveness. I would try, but I sucked and I knew it. So usually, I just focused on writing rhymes. But my admiration for the art of graffiti writing remained intact. So intact that when I moved to the City for grad school and a friend mentioned that he knew some hidden spots where some legendary graffiti existed and offered to take me on a tour following subway tracks to caverns between stations, I urged him to take me immediately.
Flashlight in hand, we descended the platform and ventured into the darkness. The mazes we journeyed were womblike and seemed infinite. I had to get used to the rats venturing between the rails. I was having flashbacks of Beat Street and Wild Style, two films that practically defined my youth. I remembered the word "Spit" popping up over detailed graffiti. The ultimate dis, defacement of defacement. My mind ventured to the present where so many emcees and poets were now using the word "spit" instead of rap or rhyme. "Yo, let me spit over that track." Graffiti culture still resonates deeply in the heart of hip-hop, whether we realize it or not. I remember learning of ancient Egyptian dynasties and how, in some, the scribes were more popular, while in others the focus was on the illustrators. Depending on the dynasty or pharaoh of an age, the work on the walls of a pyramid may have more words and scriptures versus more illustrations of the words and scriptures. This topic always made me think of the subject of beats vs. rhymes and early nineties hip-hop, ushered in by Dr. Dre and The Chronic. It was the first time I ever heard people overtly appreciating beats and flow over content. I remember not knowing whether to fast forward or play "Bitches Ain't Shit" (to me, one of the dopest tracks on the album, especially because of "The Bridge" sample) while in mixed company. Some people, women in particular, would be instantly offended, while others excused the lyrics because of Snoop's intoxicating flow. It became common to hear people say, almost apologetically, "Oh, I just like the beat." One of my professors at the time, Pearl Cleage, now a renowned novelist, had come out with a book called Mad at Miles, which she shared in class. In the book she spoke of not being able to listen to Miles Davis's softly muted trumpet without hearing the muted screams of the women he had unabashedly abused. She opened my eyes to misogyny and the way it plays out in our daily life. I wrote a horrible play for her class attempting to address the issue of misogyny in hip-hop. The Chronic was number one on the charts at the time. And just as I began to think about how Ms. Cleage and her class had deeply affected me, we reached the first stop on our underground graffiti tour. The first stop changed my life.
A piece had been painted that, to this day, I don't really know how to describe. It looked three dimensional, as if the letters had been painted on top of each other instead of side by side. They seemed to be exiting a wide-open mouth, like bullets from a chamber. I remember stepping closer for a better look and kicking one of many spray paint cans. This one, however, was heavy as if it were full. Excited by the possibility of leaving my tag, I picked it up. Almost immediately, I realized its heaviness was not the sort that one would expect from liquid. I then shook the can and heard a shuffle-like movement. I removed the top, expecting to find a spray nozzle. Instead, what I found was what appeared to be tightly coiled pieces of paper. Almost immediately, I placed the top back on the can as if I had seen nothing unusual, removed my backpack and slid it inside. I assume my friend thought I was keeping a souvenir for myself. He didn't ask and I didn't explain. For whatever reasons I had immediately determined to discover the contents of my find alone.
At home that evening, I removed the can from my bag and attempted to liberate its contents. It was an aged yellowish-brown paper that reminded me of the homemade paper that my college roommate's crafty girlfriend would sometimes make out of recycled goods. I pinched the sides and without much difficulty removed it from the can. As soon as I did, instead of staying together as I expected, part of the scroll's center fell to the ground. I noted that it had rolled under my chair and began a more careful process of opening the remainder. I began to uncoil the manuscript and soon found that it was not one long scroll, but several scrolled pages rolled together. The first page was the longest. I immediately attempted to read what was written on it and found that I could not make out the words. They seemed to be written with great care, yet almost appeared to be written in a foreign alphabet like Arabic, Sanskrit, or Hebrew. If this was the work of a graffiti artist, it was highly advanced and practically academic. I may have spent about twenty minutes looking at that first page, unable to decipher a single word. I rolled it up and then, one by one, unrolled the other pages and saw that they were all written in the same hand. I placed them back together, rolled them tightly and returned them back to the can. I then picked up the one page that had rolled under my chair, carried it with me to my bed and uncoiled it. It was no different than the others. The writing, though artfully crafted, seemed illegible. After a few minutes of staring at it, I began to form the opinion that it was not written in a foreign alphabet. It was someone's personal alphabet, like the ones Duce and Sergio would create. But this "someone" was surely a master. It felt old. Older than something written in the eighties or even the seventies. It felt ancient. If I had found it in a museum, I'm not certain that I would have linked it with graffiti. But finding it in a spray can in a graffiti site put it in an unusual context. Yet, not unusual enough to think that it didn't belong there. Somehow, it felt connected. It made sense. But I could make no sense of it. I stared long and hard, amazed that an individual's penmanship could be so ancient and "street." I began to think of it like a piece of graffiti. How many times had I stood looking at a wall trying to decipher a graff writer's work of art? We would pride ourselves on being the first to decipher a piece. And the best pieces always had to be deciphered. But this piece was like no other. I traced the first word with my finger, turned it upside down, and squinted my eyes. I tried every trick I could think of, yet nothing worked. My eyes grew tired. I left that one page of the manuscript on my night table and went to sleep. I didn't look at it again for over a week.
In the week that passed I started my graduate acting training at NYU. It was going to be three years of intensive study. To my surprise, the only book that we were required to have was a journal. We were told that no one would read our journals. The professors simply wanted to know that we were recording our thoughts and experiences and guaranteed us that we would thank them for the requirement. I had never really kept a journal and was excited about beginning. I went to Urban Outfitters and found a pocket-sized brown journal with yellow lined pages, and an elastic strap to keep it closed. It cost me five bucks. I loved it. For whatever reasons I had begun to put great thought into what my first words would be in this new journal. It was as if I was beginning a series of letters to my unborn children by keeping it and I wanted to pay particular attention to what I wrote. The blank journal stayed in my pocket for days.
At home one night before going to bed I placed the journal on my nightstand beside the scrolled page of the manuscript. I had recently begun the practice of sitting in silence and doing a five-minute meditation before going to sleep. I would sit on the floor, cross my legs, straighten my spine, close my eyes, and focus my thoughts by simply focusing on following my breath as it came in through my nose, traveled down to my diaphragm, and then exited my mouth. A certain peace prevailed when I did this. It also seemed to help me remember my dreams. This night, after meditating, I climbed in bed and decided to look at the manuscript page. Once again, I was amazed at the craft of the writing. It was slowly beginning to settle on me that this text was old. Pyramid old. But it still felt graffiti connected. Rather than getting frustrated at my inability to decipher the text, I was gaining more appreciation for the genius of whoever had written this. Almost without thinking about it, I picked up the blank journal and the pen beside it. I propped the manuscript page open on the bed beside me and attempted to copy the first few words into my journal. What happened next is hard to describe. I figured I would keep my eyes on the manuscript while copying my rendition into my journal. It was a subconscious decision. My focus was on looking at the details of the writing and copying it without looking at my hand or what I was writing or how it looked. I kept my eyes on the manuscript page while my hand worked at crafting a copy into my journal without peeking at my own handy work. I copied what seemed to be the first phrase or sentence and then allowed myself to look at what I had written. To my surprise, what I had copied was hardly as illegible as the original. I expected to find awkward scribbles, instead what I found was a sloppily written sentence, which read, "I stand on the corner of the block slingin' amethyst rocks." I looked back at the manuscript, and, yes, the first phrase was now somehow legible to me. I could see clearly that that was indeed what it said. However I could not as easily decipher the following phrase. It appeared that I was going to have to go through the process of copying without peeking again. I did. When I finished copying the next phrase, I looked at my journal and read "Drinkin' 40s of mother earth's private nectar stock. Dodgin' cops." I laughed. This was the craziest shit I had ever experienced. I read my first journal entry aloud several times, enjoying how it sounded. It felt like something an emcee would write. But what kind of emcee? What the hell did it mean? It was only after a few minutes that I realized what I had propped the manuscript page open with, a piece of amethyst given to me by an ex-girlfriend for my birthday. She had told me it was my birthstone and that it was known to enhance one's spiritual capacity. I had kept it on my nightstand since she had given it to me and had even held it in my hand while meditating. I picked it up and held it as I repeated those first lines over and over again. I felt strange, like I was on the cusp of something. Was it mere coincidence? I began to feel toyed with, as if somehow someone had left this manuscript specifically for me to find. The thought both frightened and excited me. The process of deciphering felt way too personal. The fact that I could only make sense of what was written after writing it in my own hand was surreal.
I spent the next six weeks copying and deciphering that one page. I would stop often to repeat the lines. They made me think of language and my experience in new and interesting ways. They inspired me to write lines of my own. I would spend whole days repeating phrases like mantras and jotting down the thoughts that came to mind as a result of them. I had been an emcee for years, but I had never written anything like this and I certainly had never heard anything like it either. I repeated it in its entirety again and again. The wordplay, imagery, and content amazed me. It spoke of the power of the spirit, of overcoming oppression, of being of an ancient lineage. It spoke directly to me. I felt empowered by it. Little doubt remained that I had come across something old and important. I would spend hours trying to figure out how something that felt so old could speak directly to these times. And, even more so, directly to me. By the time I finally finished transcribing the first manuscript page, I had it completely memorized.
On the day after I completed that first page another incident occurred. It was Friday night and I was on my way home from play rehearsal at school. I got off the subway at my regular Lafayette Avenue stop in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. I decided that I would try to find some Caribbean food before going home. I walked down Fulton Avenue in search of a veggie patty. It was about 11 p.m. and a small crowd was gathered outside of a storefront whose steamy window proved impossible to see through. A neon sign hung above the door that read "café." I opened the door and found a large group of people tightly squeezed into a small yellowish room with a woman standing before them reading a poem. A man at the door asked me if I wanted to sign up to read. It was an open mic. Immediately the manuscript page came to mind. I signed my name on the list in the last available slot. I purchased a muffin and stood near the counter next to a beautiful cinnamon-colored woman with short curly hair. She asked me if I was going to read. I asked her if she thought I looked like a poet. She looked me up and down and said, "definitely." I blushed, deep purple.
I had to sit through about ten poets before it would be my turn. I had never really sat through a poetry reading before and was amazed at the seeming popularity of this event. It was packed. The people, all young like me, would vocally respond to the images and content of the poems shared. It felt like church. The poems were mostly original, although the content matter was standard for the time: revolution. Many of the poets would read from a typed page or even from a journal. Some seemed quite shy about reading in public. By the time it was my turn I was pretty excited. The host introduced me as the final poet of the evening and I took the stage thinking, "There's no reason to be nervous. I've been on stages my entire life." I was certain I knew my "poem" by heart. I took a deep breath and began.
I had already experienced a huge surge of energy while reciting the poem to myself, but I was by no means expecting the feeling that came with reciting this poem to an audience. I could practically see the words exiting my mouth. The image of the open mouth came to mind. I was becoming the manifestation of that image. When I finished the poem there was an immense stillness. The audience seemed to have the feeling that they had just witnessed something extraordinary. They began to applaud wildly. One woman, I noticed, was crying. A man came up to me and told me that the Last Poets and Gil Scott Heron would be performing at S.O.B.'s and asked if I would like to open up for them. Another man came up and told me that Sonia Sanchez and Amiri Baraka would be reading at a Brooklyn university and asked if I would like to read at the performance as well. Another woman approached and told me that KRS One and the Fugees would be performing at Rock Against Racism in Union Square and asked if I would like to join the list of performers. I received two other invitations, one for a reading with Allen Ginsberg and another with the Roots. I had one poem. A poem that I couldn't even say that I had written. Or had I?
By this time, I had shown the manuscript to one or two friends that came over and questioned whether they were able to decipher any of the text. They hadn't, not even when I explained to them my process. Now, almost automatically I was being thrust into the world of poetry with world-renowned poets and asked to share my writing, this writing. It felt like it was bringing attention to itself. I wasn't completely comfortable with the idea, but I was even more uncomfortable with the idea of keeping it to myself. I hadn't really thought of the text as poetry. In fact, my initial thoughts were that I had come across some ancient scriptures. But then, isn't scripture very well-written poetry? I decided that I would spend more time deciphering the texts and that I would also begin to write my own words and thoughts either in reaction to the manuscript or simply inspired by my own personal journey.
I began to frequent the café, which I found out was called the Brooklyn Moon, sharing bits of the text that I had deciphered and sometimes even my own writing, and began to acquire quite a reputation. When asked about the poems I was careful to say that I could not claim authorship of the poems, although, I knew the implication was that I was taking the spiritually artistic approach of thinking of myself as a vessel. This seemed like the best explanation because there was a great deal of truth within it. I had begun to feel quite strongly that I should not reveal the origin of the writings until I had deciphered them in their entirety. With each recitation I could feel their importance growing. Often when I sat home deciphering I would slip into trance like states where I would sit for hours trying to imagine who had written them. The more I read the more I began to believe that these words had been written by someone African in origin. Perhaps some sort of shaman who foresaw slavery and the calculated oppression of African people and had planted this text to guide us through a crucial moment in our history, our future, our present. I thought intensely about the power of hip-hop. Had it, also, been planted by these African shamans as some sort of seed that would not blossom until four generations after slavery? Did it somehow hold the key to helping us express the greatest idea of freedom imaginable? Could any music have that sort of power?
Surreal, almost supernatural, things would occur every time I read aloud from the manuscript. I'd watch the words, themselves, settle into the minds of the audience and how they would leave inspired, almost as if they had witnessed something extra-terrestrial. And even within myself, the energy that would swirl within and around me as I deciphered and recited these poems is practically indescribable. But even stranger things began to happen. People began to respond as if it were their personal mission to see that these writings reach the masses. After one reading, at New York's reputable Nuyorican Poetry Café, I was approached by Marc Levin, a director, who had an idea of how these poems could work their way into a film. That film was Slam, which ended up winning the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and the Camera D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in France. Paul Devlin approached me and other poets from the 1996 Nuyorican Grand Slam team with plans of making a documentary of our touring experience. That film was called Slam Nation. One of the slam team members, Jessica Care Moore, had self-published her own book of poetry and approached me about publishing mine. That book became The Seventh Octave, a pre-mature collection of parts of the manuscript that I was secretly deciphering, and my own poetry, inspired by the ancient text. Next I was approached by legendary producer, Rick Rubin, who encouraged me to sign to his label, American Recordings, and record what became my first album, Amethyst Rock Star.
It took much longer than I would have imagined to decipher the text in its entirety. Each "poem" often left me in such a bewildered state that I could never guess what would follow. My process of deciphering remained the same, yet the text became increasingly difficult, as sometimes I would have to attempt a passage as many as thirty times before it became clear. It often seemed that I could not decipher a text until I was ready to understand it. I often took long breaks between working on the manuscript for the sake of digesting what I had already deciphered. About three years into it I began deciphering the poem entitled "Co-dead language." The long list of names baffled me. Most startling was that the writing seemed to be a direct response to the death of the hip-hop icons Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur. I had found the manuscript before either rapper had been killed, and even though I had been comfortable with the idea of this being an ancient text that had somehow fallen into my lap, when it spoke this directly to our times, I must admit, it frightened me. That fear propelled me to read it aloud as much as possible. I put it to music. I read it on TV. I couldn't listen to hip-hop the same way. I felt personally attacked whenever I felt an emcee was misusing his power. I grew angry at the way capitalism and violence was being romanticized. Then I started working on the final scroll.
I had saved the longest scroll for last. This was to be the seventh and final "poem." From the start, the tone of this page was completely different. It felt raw, unpolished, even gangster. My difficulty in deciphering it lay in the fact that I was completely surprised by the direction in which it seemed to be heading. And for a long time, I guess I wasn't ready for it. More than any of the others, I could feel its direct connection to hip-hop. The style in which it was written felt more like a rhyme than a poem. It was hardcore. So hardcore, that I abandoned it for over a year, while busying myself with other projects. Had I abandoned hip-hop too? It's true that I was listening to less hip-hop than I ever had. The growing romanticism of gangsterism and heartless pimpery had left me somewhat confused and more than a little angry. It felt like hip-hop was further off course than it had ever been. The have-nots of the African American ghettos had seemingly bought into the heartless capitalistic ideals that had originally been responsible for buying them as slaves. It felt hopeless. Hip-hop was dead. Misogyny and ignorance prevailed. Hip-hop seemed to be running the same God-forsaken course as the American government. Diamonds were as fluid as oil while the violence and corruption surrounding African diamond mines became just as overlooked as the number of dead women and children in Iraq and Afghanistan murdered in the name of American greed: the crudest oil of all. It hurt to hear emcees rapping about pointing guns at each other rather than at real enemies facing our communities and children (, Said the Shotgun to the Head). It felt senseless.
Slowly my senses returned to me. Through the growing popularity of southern hip-hop, "crunk" music, "trap" music, chopped and screwed, etc., I was reminded of the original passion embedded in hip-hop music. It's not that the subject matter was any more uplifting; rather the context that shifted surrounding it. Suddenly, through hearing Southern rappers voicing their desire to once and for all "put the South on the map" I was able to see that hip-hop was still voicing a centuries old desire for respect. I was also able to realize how much of a product of America it is. This cry for respect allowed me to lose my impatience with hip-hop's overall infatuation with gangsters and realize that even that was simply a cry for power and to be recognized. Like so many, in cases when the oppressed regain a sense of power, the initial intent is to express or abuse that power in the same way that it was used against them. Men have used this sort of manipulative power over women for centuries. In hip-hop, as in America, misogyny still prevails. But that misogyny is ironically rooted in an intense and undeniable love of women. How can we uncover those roots? I slowly began to trust that I would not be shocked by my findings with this last poem. I went back to deciphering it. Sure enough, I believe that that is what the last poem (actually the first in this collection, NGH WHT) is aimed at. The problem with poetry or scripture is that even after all my deciphering, there is still much to be deciphered. Phrases must be picked apart, dissected, meditated on. There are layers of meaning.
In the bottom corner of the final page I found the last few words. What I found, I initially thought funny and quite witty. I decided to use those words for the title of the entire manuscript, The Dead Emcee Scrolls. Of course, it is first a reference to the ancient Judaic texts that were found in the 1940s in caves near the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea Scrolls are often confused with the Nag Hamadi, other ancient texts that were found in Egypt around the same time that claim to be, among other things, the secret teachings of Yeshua (Jesus). Both findings, along with a few others, have been of growing popularity since the pop explosion of The Da Vinci Code, a novel that uses factual historic data to bring light to ground-shattering truths which may have been suppressed by the early Christian church. I also believe the title to be a reference to the two hip-hop icons whose deaths have served as an example of what can happen when the power of hip-hop is misused or simply over-looked.
I have yet to fully comprehend why these texts came to me. Maybe my training as an actor, and until then, untapped talent as a writer, prepared me to write and recite them in a way that would garner the attention they now desire. I believe this release to be a part of the original author's plan. I have stopped concerning myself with the question of who wrote them and have simply found peace in knowing that "it is written." Yet, these writings have also had a profound affect on me. In fact, I will go so far as to say that they have made a poet of me. Before encountering them I had certainly dabbled with emceeing and poetry. Shit, I never lost a battle. But my rhyming and writing before encountering these texts could have easily been aligned with many a braggadocious emcee. This manuscript changed me. It forced me to decipher my own life and purpose. Subsequently, my books, She and , Said the Shotgun to the Head, were exclusively written by me. Most of the poems and songs on Amethyst Rock Star and the self-titled Saul Williams album are my own writing.
I have decided to share some of the effect that the text had on me, personally, by including some journal excerpts in the second half of this book. As I mentioned, once I encountered these texts I began to listen to hip-hop differently. I began to think differently. The journal excerpts will give you a glance into the seven years of my personal life when the majority of these texts were deciphered. They are a personal offering in light of the impersonal nature of The Dead Emcee Scrolls. Through reading them you may gain insight into the way these texts helped me find my voice as a poet, emcee and artist.
Well, I guess that's it. Enjoy it. Read it to yourself or out loud to a friend. Try it over a beat. Whatever. But spend time with it. If you're an emcee, double that time and let it inform your lyricism. In many ways it probably already has. You may be surprised to see other emcees referenced either by name or by quote. Who's quoting whom? There's no explanation. Perhaps I was not the first to find this, but by some amazing grace it has found me and now I present it to you. As for the scrolls themselves, I've kept them tucked away in hopes of one day being able to arrange some sort of exhibit. I am uncertain of the will of the "author" and, thus, have learned to sit back and allow things to unfold as they will. This has been my finding's greatest lesson to me: patience. The changes that I have wanted to see in hip-hop, American society, the black community, and the world at large, can only unfold at the rate of our evolving consciousness. People ask me why I think poetry has become popular among the youth again. I respond that we cannot achieve a new world order without new words and ways of articulating the world we'd like to experience. The youth of today are using poetry slams and open mics as a means of calling our new world into order. Hip-hop has aided our generation tremendously in helping us formulate the ability to articulate our desires and dreams over beats and in our daily lives. Word up. It is only a matter of time before we realize the importance of these times. And in the words of Victor Hugo, "There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come."
SAUL WILLIAMS Copyright ©2006 by Saul Williams
Meet the Author
Saul Williams is an acclaimed poet, musician, and actor. The film Slam, which he cowrote and starred in, won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival (1998), and the Camera d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. He has contributed to The New York Times, voiced Jean-Michel Basquiat in Downtown 81, and cut records with Rick Rubin and Trent Reznor. He has spoken at more than 200 universities where his poetry has been added to the curriculum of dozens of creative writing programs, and has taught poetry/performance workshops around the world. He recently starred in the Broadway musical Holler If Ya Hear Me. His books include S/HE, ,said the shotgun to the head., and The Dead Emcee Scrolls. He lives in New York. Visit his website at SaulWilliams.com.
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