Dazed Digital: Would you say that wanting to switch people on to something really drives you?
Saul Williams: In very subtle, humble ways, the most any of us can do is play our part. How big or small that part is something we have no real control over, but we should try and play it. When Obama gave his Nobel Prize speech, he said what we are witnessing in the Middle East and so on will not change in our lifetimes, but when I think about those things, I think, ‘That is something I would like to see change in my lifetime! In the same way that I saw apartheid end in my lifetime.’ I believe that what happens with Jewish and Palestinian people can change but the fact is that we can’t rely on politics to bring about those kind of changes. The responsibility is really on us to do it through art and music.
Dazed Digital: Sadly, most artists don’t share that conviction, even hip hop has become totally assimilated into the mainstream over the last decade…
Saul Williams: When hip hop happened it was a powerful bearer of identity, and I think the through line of hip hop is that it is about confidence: if you look at rappers they always seems to have to be a little boastful; they always seem to have to have a certain amount of braggadocio. That was important in the beginning, it allowed people that felt disenfranchised to stand up, do it and say I told you so. It fought to be accepted and it was accepted, but once it was accepted there came the cookie cutter way of doing it. It’s just a process of becoming pop, and there is nothing wrong with that, but I lost interest. Everything that came afterwards was a wave of purebred Americanism – the ingrained cultural thing of celebrating the wrong idea of the hero. That goes way back to the whole cowboy thing – we made all those cowboy films, and we were always conditioned to root for the cowboys, even though they raped and murdered and stole. Look at the rise of a George Bush and the rise of a 50 Cent and you are looking at the same paradigm – the rise of a cowboy, or the rise of a gangster.