Martyr Loser King
Saul Williams: Newburgh, New York. It’s like 60 miles outside of New York City upstate and for the past 40 years it’s had the highest murder rate, drug rate, drug trafficking rate, crime rate in New York State with only 35,000 people there.
Per ratio, it’s got the highest rates in New York State for the last 40 years. There were shootouts with Uzis in my junior high school. I thought it was normal, I didn’t realize that wasn’t how the rest of the world was operating . This was in the 80s, way before the craziness. But you know we weren’t only good at shooting, we were good at dodging bullets so it’s not like everybody got shot. I only got shot on stage. It’s a crazy thing to be a part of something that you can really stand behind and go, this feels great. And me I have a habit of that, that’s what I learn by doing theatre before I got into the film world, even before Slam. Nobody writes a play for money. People write movies and TV shows for money all the time but if you’re writing a play for money you’re kinda stupid. You know the big money is in other avenues, so when you go to write a play, you’re putting other things on the line. Those things are things that actors can really sink their teeth into. I grew up doing theatre, so it’s all come full circle to this production because I’ve been away from the theatre since Slam, really.
I’ve been on a particular type of grind since Slam, which opened a lot of doors for me. Slam was really my thesis project, my final project for the grad program that I was in at NYU. I was in the grad acting program. I had every intention of just going out and auditioning for movies and plays, I had no intention of writing my first project and I really didn’t expect to be offered a book deal or a record deal but I came out of Slam with those types of offers and it gave me the legs to walk away from the bullshit type of acting offers that came my way primarily.
People being like, “Ah, we want you to be the funny black guy that sits beside the handsome white guy that gets the girl.” You’re like, “I’ve seen that story a billion times, I get it, I understand bankability and marketing but why are you making movies again? Is it to make money or to change lives?” In theatre it’s always to change lives. That’s the only purpose to fucking do it. Basically you don’t earn money doing it, not the type of money you get from other avenues in acting so why the fuck else would you do it except you feel some compulsion to do really put your all behind something and see what it brings out in you and in the audience? I always believe that art is powerful. Maybe it’s because I grew up with activist parents. It’s funny because the night you were there, Afeni Shakur, Tupac’s mom, was in the audience on Pac’s birthday.
She spoke to us. She was like, “Let’s be very clear. The revolution could not have happened and would not have happened without theatre and the arts. Don’t sleep for a minute, realize that what you’re doing on this stage is revolutionary work.” For me, that’s the type of household and the type of mentality that I grew up in, that I was taught that from a young age. I was taught about artists like Paul Robeson or even Sydney Poitier, all these characters, Harry Belafonte, who just broke barriers and did it proudly in the name of something bigger than their own egos. Granted, yes the times have changed and so have the issues, but the real issue is the same thing. It’s all about love. People who become confused about issues surrounding gay and transgender rights, what’s confusing about love? What’s confusing about openness? It’s always been the same issue but people get blocked on these things and the theatre has always been there to represent a way in which we can look at ourselves, critique and analyze our behaviors and grow from it, even before the fucking church.
That’s it, that’s all it was. Just a desire to own the material, but that’s something I learned certainly as a musician. I mean I’ve done covers, but that’s also something you learn in the theatre as well—it’s going to resonate when you have a certain amount of ownership of a text that’s written by someone else. It’s just a matter of empathizing, relating, and being able to identify with it to its core, and to your core.
I spoke to his brother last week, last Thursday, Mopreme Shakur, and it’s crazy because his brother was the president of the drama club and Pac was in the drama club with him and he said, “Nobody will believe this but mostly what we did everyday is we’d go out and nerd out listening to the Les Miserables soundtrack.” Can you imagine that? Tupac, nerding out to the Les Missoundtrack? That’s what he would do all the time!
His whole being is there. Look at the women singing “Keep Ya Head Up.” It’s coming out of women’s mouths and it feels like it’s written by women. Tell me which Jay Z song you could do that with. Tell me which Biggie song you could do that with, which 2 Chainz song. These are all artists that I like, I’m just saying Pac was the best, because Pac did not rap for money, Pac rapped for the pure passion of his community, for being alive, he put his all into it the same way that Kurt Cobain put his all into it. He’s rapping from the motherfucking anus of the universe, he’s pulling through all of that shit in the most crazy way. And yeah, the misstep is that Pac saw red, when he got angry he saw red and just went all the fuck out. Who would not see red after getting shot five times by someone you recognize as a friend of someone else? Of course he felt like he was justified in saying he slept with Biggie’s baby mama in “Hit ‘Em Up,” and then being thrown in prison for other shit, especially when you’re someone that was practically prison. His aunt, Assata Shakur, is still in political asylum in Cuba right now.
If you want to understand Tupac, read the autobiography of Assata Shakur. That’s his aunt, and read what’s happening with her right now, via the state of New Jersey. She’s listed as the number two most wanted terrorist in America today.
The number-one woman. Today. For something that went down in 1976, based on COINTELPRO, which is to say what the us government did when they looked at what was happening in the civil rights movement and the black power movement as terrorist cells, which is what splintered into the Bloods and Crips and a lot of bullshit you see still in the community still to this day was started by our own government. Pac’s family were victims of that. That’s why he was practically born in prison, that’s why his father Mutulu Shakur is still in prison, to this day. That’s why Afeni Shakur got led into the lifestyle that she got into and his aunt Assata Shakur is still in political asylum in Cuba with a $2 million bounty on her head by the U.S. government today. You wonder how Pac could rap against the government? It’s crazy, it’s much deeper than just hip hop. Pac is a descendent of a fucking rebellious force, fighting for justice in America to this day.
It’s crazy. It’s funny when other rappers compare themselves to Pac. I read these bullshit articles where the writer’s like, “Pac was a great figure, he wasn’t necessarily one of the best rappers but he was a great figure.” I disagree eternally with those cats. And they mean well, usually those are written in articles even when they’re bringing up Pac. Fuck that. Pac was an amazing rapper.
Yeah, his first album came out in ‘91, which is early enough to even originate a few styles of hip-hop. I think that had to do with just the luck of being born in New York, moving to Baltimore which is south, and then crossing the country and going to Oakland, which is west and thus becoming influenced by what was happening in the north, in the south, in the west and of course they’re also listening to what’s happening in the southwest, like Texas and all that, Scarface, so that Pac just at an early age was exposed to more hip-hop than your average head as far as regionality was concerned. The New Yorkers were listening to New Yorkers, the West Coasters were listening to West Coasters, the Midwesterners were listening to Midwesterners, the Florida cats were listening to Florida cats, the Atlanta cats were listening to Atlanta cats, Texas cats listening to Texas cats, Pac moved around.
That’s it in a nutshell. That’s no different then pointing out someone’s Zodiac sign, isn’t it? That’s what we say, it’s like where were you born, what time. So this planet was here, this planet was here, this planet was here that makes you a Gemini, that means this this and this was in your first house, this was in your second house. Pac was in this house and this house, he visited this planet, this planet, this planet and that planet.
Well, most of them have backgrounds in theatre and music like myself. We do have a lot of Broadway veterans, and we also have a lot of artists like myself who are making their debuts on Broadway, so it’s kind of a mix between the music and theatre worlds. We do have a great many dancers as well who do everything from being b-boys to being trained.
We have krumpers, we have b-boys, freestylers, we have dancers trained modern jazz, they’re all in there and everybody in the crew also sings. Tonya Pinkins, her first movie is Beat Street which is the classic hip-hop film. We need to bring back the old school hip hop shit so cats know what’s up. It’s funny how cats can think that they’re doing shit that’s original when they don’t know that like there’s hardly anything more original than how it was when hip hop first started, when cats were dressing like robots from space.
Yeah, you know what I’m saying. Africa Bambaataa and the Grand Master Flash, look at how they dressed, look at how they danced, it’s out of this world. I see you Bushwick, but check this. This is what skinny jeans looked like. It’s crazy what the fuck they would have on and how they would talk, people like Rammellzee we talk about Basquiat but Rammellzee was like, in terms of style, fucking hell. These cats, those are my heroes. I feel like that’s the only shit missing right now, is them.
What’s funny is this—you gotta do your homework. For me, it’s like, I just say that in terms of access. I grew up ‘80s and ‘90s listening to hip hop and at some point I got interested in where the samples came from and so I started digging in the crates and finding vinyl and going back. Hopefully when the musicians in the music industry become more interested in music then posing, and they really start doing the music research, then they’ll really discover what fucking old school is. I’m still going back, further and further fucking back. I listen to southern hip-hop and the thing that made me understand it was the blues. As a New Yorker at first I’d be like, “What the fuck are they talking about, why should I listen to this?” But it’s not what they’re saying, it’s how they’re saying it. Just like Robert Johnson played the same guitar as everybody else but turned his back to his audience when he played because he didn’t want them to see how he was bending the strings and getting the certain sounds from the guitar that other guitarists couldn’t get. And that’s what those southern rappers are doing, just bending the strings. Young Thug and all of them bending the strings. Not to mention that Young Thug and a lot of those cats, they come from Haiti, Jamaica so the Caribbean influence is there as well, and if you get into what’s happening in those countries at the time of their birth you start finding where those influences are coming from, whether they’re known, subconscious or conscious. It pays to love music. It’s like what George Clinton says. “The funk is its own reward.”
“Resist the Temptation.” Right now.
Me Against the World.
No idea, I don’t even know if I watched Resurrection. I’m not a Pac expert, I’m really not. I’m just as an actor here conjuring his spirit. That’s a whole other thing. This has more to do with candles and pentagrams.
[Laughs] Pac pills. I’m popping Pac pills. I don’t know. His mother said something crazy to me last week, she was like “Maybe you’ll see Saul Willams again when you go home tonight, but from the moment you started doing ‘Holler If You Hear Me’, at the end of the first act, the moment you did that, I looked on stage and I saw my son, I heard my son and felt my son’s spirit in the room and he’s there, in you, right now. So maybe you’ll encounter Saul Williams when you go home tonight.” And what could I say, it’s Pac’s mom.
02 – Horn of the Clock-Bike
03 – Ashes
04 – Think Like They Book Say
05 – The Bear Coltan as Cotton
06 – Burundi (feat. Emily Kokal)
07 – The Noise Came From Here
08 – Down For Some Ignorance
09 – Roach Eggs
10 – All Coltrane Solos at Once (feat. Haleek Maul)
11 – No Different
12 – HomesDronesPoemsDrums