This year's SXSW will feature a more than satisfactory amount of hip-hop and hip-hop related artists—which is more than I can say for Coachella—according to its 8,000 page line-up posted online. Hip-hop household names include Aesop Rock, Buck 65, RJD2, Slug (of Atmosphere), Diplo, Sage Francis and Zion I.
It seems the way to break out as a hip-hop artist these days is to span genres and generations: RJD2 has worked with everyone from Aesop Rock to Mos Def to Polyphonic Spree and Massive Attack. Diplo? You probably know him as M.I.A.'s DJ, but he's also done remixes for Kanye, Justin, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Three 6 Mafia, Gwen Stefani, Beck and more.
Saul Williams, performing at Exodus Wednesday night, is another of those all-encompassing hip-hop performers—or rather, a hip-hop performer that appeals to all-encompassing audiences.
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Williams is mostly known for spoken word, appearing multiple times on Russell Simmons' late-night HBO spoken-word program, Def Poetry, and playing the leading roll in the indie film he helped to write himself, Slam. He's been published in The New York Times and Esquire, and has penned four critically acclaimed collections of poetry.
But the most remarkable thing about Williams is his incredible malleability. He has performed with artists such as De La Soul, the Fugees, Blackalicious, Erykah Badu and Zack de La Rocha, as well as distinguished poets like Allen Ginsberg and Sonia Sanchez. His 2001 full-length album, Amethyst Rock Star, was produced by Rick Rubin.
Williams has supported Nine Inch Nails, the Mars Volta, played at 2005's Lollapalooza and even managed to woo studded belt-adorned teenagers with his spot on 2004's Plea for Peace line-up, sandwiched between "hardcore punk" band (with the worst name ever) Planes Mistaken For Stars and Saddle Creek's Cursive. Armed with nothing but his voice and words uniquely addressing well-worn topics such as the temporality of religion, politics or love, Williams is the ultimate composite artist: a perfect blend of hip-hop, rock, rhyme and prose. His handful of EPs and full-lengths beautifully illustrate his shifting music styles. He hates drum machines, the gentrification of Brooklyn and loves drum and bass (DnB) and metaphors.
So give the dude a chance; squeeze him into your already-loaded SXSW schedule somewhere between Trek Life and Sparklehorse—he'll fit right in.