Tardy Album Review | Saul Williams – Encrypted & Vulnerable

This album was released on July 18th this year. I wasn’t initially planning on reviewing this project, but I felt bad for never talking about Saul Williams, especially since he’s one of my favorite Hip Hop artists, so I figured I should write about his latest work. The reason I wasn’t going to discuss this one is mainly because it’s the second entry in his MartyrLoserKing trilogy. I liked MartyrLoserKing, but it was easily my least favorite album by him until I heard this one. I really just didn’t want to write about Saul Williams if I wasn’t gonna be praising him, but then I realized that I was being kind of a stan, so I said “fuck it.” So here we are. I’ve already listened to the album, so I’m not even gonna bother doing a preamble. Well, you know what? Forget what I just said. I guess I should talk about my experience with Saul William’s prior work before I discuss this album in particular. I first became familiar with Saul Williams when I saw him perform on The Colbert Report a long time ago. I had to have been in either middle school or early high school. He was doing a dramatic Spoken Word performance, so for the longest time I didn’t know that he made actual Hip Hop music. I just thought he was a talented poet and writer, and a smart dude. However, I eventually heard a song by Joey Bada$$ called Amethyst Rockstar, which I found out was named after Saul Williams’ debut album.  The first time I ever heard him on a song was when he was featured on Adventure Time’s Sent from Sandy Shores. I think that song is amazing. It’s definitely my favorite song from Dreams of Water Themes, but I guess that isn’t saying much because I didn’t care for the album as a whole. Anyway, when I finally listened to Amethyst Rockstar I was blown away. I think that album’s amazing. I went on to listen to all of his projects. The Inevitable Rise & Liberation of NiggyTardust! is my favorite album from him, and I even love Volcanic Sunlight, which seems to be a lot of people’s least favorite project of his. Even though MartyrLoserKing is my second least favorite album from him, I still think it’s very good. I just felt like the production and sonic aspects were a little too understated for my taste. It’s not a bad album by any means though. I didn’t know it was supposed to be the first entry in a trilogy until I heard this new album. Speaking of which, every song has production from Gonjasufi, so that’s pretty cool. One thing that I didn’t know before listening to this album is that Saul Williams didn’t really rap on it at all. Every verse here is either sung or a Spoken Word performance. On paper the idea didn’t really bother me that much, but the execution is just really spotty. I like the Spoken Word performances, but his singing throughout this project is honestly pretty bad. It’s kind of confusing to me because I liked his singing on his previous albums a lot. I don’t know what happened. I also wasn’t aware that this album is the soundtrack to a full fledged musical & graphic novel called MartyrLoserKing. I guess the full project won’t be out until the trilogy of albums is completed. If I had to guess I’d say he put more effort into the film than this album, but I don’t know for sure. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. Anyway, it pains me to say this, but I don’t actually like this album. I like a decent portion of the tracks, but overall I don’t think the album is very good. I’m just gonna talk about the full project in the proper order of the track listing. It begins with Coronation as Harness. I don’t like this one. I think Saul’s singing honestly sounds really bad, and I don’t like the way the song is structured either. He just sings the exact same verse three separate times. Again, I don’t really care for his vocal performance, but I at least dig the production from Gonjasufi & CX KiDTRONiK. In fact, that’s the one aspect of this album that I think is fairly consistent. Most of these beats are pretty cool, although they are just as, if not more understated and minimalistic than the instrumentals on MartyrLoserKing. I don’t think Coronation as Harness is a bad song. It’s just okay. I actually don’t think any of the songs on this project are bad. A lot of them are sadly just mediocre to me. The second song on the album, I Own the Night, is actually pretty good in my opinion. I think the opening song transitions into it pretty nicely, and even if I don’t care for Saul’s singing, I can’t deny that his writing is still absolutely superb.

If I’m just born once in a lifetime
Who am I to make things up?
I count the stars, but will they count me?
Who am I to lift them up?

The way the instrumental switches up after the sung intro is pretty cool. The Spoken Word verse on this song is great, and the way the production evolves during this part of the song is really dope.

I am the light in its wave form
I am grace
I own the night and the dream space of a planet in a planet
I own the night that each day works to erase

As much as I enjoy this track, I have to admit that it feels kind of strange. It’s not a typical song that you can just listen and nod your head to. Much like a lot of the other material on the album, it feels inherently supplemental. Maybe my appreciation for the music here will be augmented after experiencing the final, completed version of the entire series. Anyway, despite all that, I still think I Own the Night is pretty good. It’s followed by another song that I like called Experiment.

I actually really like the dark, subdued production on this track. Saul doesn’t really sing on this one. It’s purely Spoken Word. The first verse is really good, and the second one is even better.

Spray paint on walls for the moment
Sell the wall in the gallery to hold it
My humanity like that
They bought and sold it
Never too old to behold it
Sanded and molded

As a song it’s kind of an underwhelming listen. You have to really focus on what he’s saying to get any real pleasure from it. If you’re the kind of person who values sonic elements over lyrics, this song will most likely be completely worthless to you. I fuck with it though. It’s pretty good. By the way, the music video is fucking awesome. I also like the following track, Underground. The production here is a bit more melodic than the preceding material; I really like it. I also think the song has one of Saul’s better vocal performances on the album. The hook is pretty solid. His contributions to the song cease around the midpoint; the remainder of the track just consists of instrumentation from Gonjasufi & Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, which is cool I suppose. I like the song. It’s followed by Before the War, which is one of my least favorite songs on the album. I think the production is really fucking good though. I’m not exactly sure what stringed instrument that is; it sounds like a Celtic harp, but I might be wrong about that. I think Saul’s singing on this track is tolerable. The lyrics are pretty cool, but aside from that the song does nothing for me.

She was my best friend before the war
I never saw an end before the war
I always felt what we were destined for before, before
I always questioned what made hearts harden

I know I just stated that the production is really fucking good, and it kind of is, but it’s also very repetitive. It doesn’t really evolve as the song progresses, so it loses my attention after a while. The song is honestly just really boring to me. I think it’s mediocre. Thankfully, it’s followed by one of my favorite songs on the album, People Above the Moon. This song is actually co-produced by Dave Sitek, so maybe that has something to do with me liking it so much more than the others. It has one of my favorite instrumentals on the album. I even like Saul’s performance on this song a lot. I don’t think his singing is that great from a technical standpoint, but the melody sounds really great to me. I think this is easily the best song up to this point on the album, but I just wish a better vocalist was performing it. Someone like Ed Ballon would sound amazing singing this shit. I still like it a lot as it is though. It’s dope. It’s followed by the title track, which is also pretty cool, although not nearly as enjoyable to me personally.

I love the production, and I think the background vocals from Shara Nova sound really fucking good. Saul’s voice seems to have a strange, echoey filter over it on this song. I feel like his performance—particularly his actual lyrics—aren’t really at the forefront of the song. It seems like you’re just supposed to kinda experience the sound and atmosphere first and foremost. The production is very low-key, but I do enjoy it to some extent. Honestly, the song is weird as fuck. It’s cool though. I like it. The next track is called Fight Everything. This is kind of a frustrating song for me because there are aspects of it that I really like, but other aspects prevent me from fully enjoying it. I think the production is great. It’s far more chaotic and animated than most of the other instrumentals on the album. Unfortunately, Saul’s singing is really goddamn rough on this track. I want to like the song more than I do because I think the production is really good, but it’s unfortunately not enough to make the song worth returning to for me. I’d prefer an instrumental version of the song, but this version is just okay to me. The next song is called Dare, and I think it’s pretty good.

The production is honestly really awesome. Saul’s singing is pretty bad, but he thankfully transitions from singing to speaking, which is cool. It’s a good track, but I would’ve loved it much more if the singing was better. It’s followed by Full of Shit, which might be my favorite song. I don’t know yet. I haven’t decided. It’s either Full of Shit or People Above the Moon. I’ll have to figure that out soon. Anyway, the production on the former is really stellar, and the guest vocals from Lippie are relatively angelic. Saul actually sounds pretty good when he’s harmonizing with her. The song’s got a very stripped back structure, but it’s still pretty dope to me. I fuck with it. Unfortunately, I don’t care for most of the other songs on the project. Infinite is easily the worst, most pointless track on the album. It’s the closest thing to a wack song. It’s pretty much a complete waste of time. I think the production is kinda cool, but the singing at the beginning of the song from Saul is not good at all, and the majority of the track just consists of audio of Saul speaking to astrophysicist Bianca M. Rhym over the subtle instrumental, and there’s no reason for me to listen to it. I don’t get any enjoyment out of it. The song’s very mediocre to me. The penultimate track is called Magnify the Feeling. Once again, it’s more good production tarnished by below average singing. Lippie makes another appearance on this song, but her contribution is so insignificant and unremarkable that she may as well be completely absent. I like the Spoken Word performance at the end of the song, but it’s not enough to make me return. It’s an okay track overall I guess. The final song is thankfully pretty good to me. I think the production is very good, and Saul’s singing actually isn’t that bad. I mean, it’s not really “good” either, but I can enjoy it to some extent. The grandiose production is a nice breath of fresh air, although the song is surprisingly short. Honestly, it’s a bizarrely unambitious way to close the album. I still like it though. It’s pretty good.

This album is just okay to me. I don’t know if I can call it a disappointment. I’m definitely not as disappointed in this as I was in MartyrLoserKing. Again, I’m hoping that my appreciation for this album will be enhanced when the trilogy is complete. As I insinuated earlier, this sounds like a side dish as opposed to the main course. I feel like he put more effort into the film. It makes sense I guess. It’s probably rare for a soundtrack album to be better than the film it’s meant to accompany. Anyway, my main issue with this project is that the singing isn’t very good. Even though I would have really liked to hear Saul rap again, I can’t deny that the Spoken Word performances are very well done. I think this album’s okay, but I’d be lying if I said that I was really looking forward to the final installment in this trilogy. If anything, I’m looking forward to what comes after the trilogy. I don’t think he’ll ever top his 2007 magnum opus, but I’ll always be a fan. Even though I didn’t care for this album that much, it’s not like Saul Williams isn’t just as great of a writer as he always was. The issue isn’t that he fell off. I’m just not really into what he was trying to do with this album. It’s not bad though. I actually liked the majority of these songs. I just didn’t love any of them unfortunately. I think this is probably the worst possible jumping in point for new listeners. I would recommend starting from the beginning of his discography. Anyway, this is an okay album, but I’m glad I listened to it. I would’ve been mad at myself for skipping over it.

Favorite Song: Full of Shit
Least Favorite Song: Infinite


Grade: C+

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