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Saul Williams: Tiny Desk Concert

In terms of sheer intensity, Saul Williams' Tiny Desk concert may be the most potent in our eight-year history. Only Kate Tempest comes to mind as its equal, which makes sense given that both mix music with bracing, truthful poetry. In Williams' opening song — "Burundi," from his album MartyrLoserKing — the main character is a computer hacker who lives in Burundi and fights for democracy:

Question your authority, genocide and poverty

Treaties don't negate the fact you're dealing stolen property

Hacker, I'm a hacker, I'm a hacker in your hard drive

Hundred thousand dollar Tesla ripping through your hard drive

Accompanied by two acoustic guitars as they pound out a beat, Williams became ever more animated, riled and firm. Then, "Think Like They Book Say" paid homage to Chelsea Manning, the soldier serving a prison sentence for leaking classified information to WikiLeaks. To close out the set, Williams cradled my James Brown doll and issued a powerful, somewhat off-the-cuff version of "Down For Some Ignorance." It brought him to tears, and you could feel his passion in every word — sharp, thoughtful, deeply powerful and utterly provocative.

MartyrLoserKing is available now (iTunes) (Amazon).

Set List

  • "Burundi"
  • "Think Like They Book Say"
  • "Down For Some Ignorance"
  • Credits

    Producers: Bob Boilen, Niki Walker; Audio Engineers: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Niki Walker, Kara Frame; Production Assistant: Becky Harlan; Photo: Claire Harbage/NPR.

    For more Tiny Desk concerts, subscribe to our podcast.

    Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    In 1988, a determined Bob Boilen started showing up on NPR's doorstep every day, looking for a way to contribute his skills in music and broadcasting to the network. His persistence paid off, and within a few weeks he was hired, on a temporary basis, to work for All Things Considered. Less than a year later, Boilen was directing the show and continued to do so for the next 18 years.

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