Coming off his 2011 release Volcanic Sunlight -- reportedly his "pop" record, but more a conceptual art move than a possible chart-climber -- poet, rapper, writer, artist, and activist Saul Williams returned with Martyr Loser King, an album that matches his last provocatively titled effort, 2007's The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust. Here, the versatile, former She Wants Revenge member Justin Warfield replaces Tardust's producer Trent Reznor as the man who rips pop and rap music into fascinating, compressed shreds, but both Volcanic Sunlight and Williams' work on the 2Pac jukebox musical Holler If Ya Hear Me seem to influence the funky choruses and connectable bits of the album. The hooky "Ashes" gets stuck in the head like a Kid Cudi cut, although the Lonely Stoner isn't like to write something as striking as "Protect and serve/Your bullets won't deliver the last word." "The calculated masses are appealing/The jury hung from every museum ceiling" is the skillful way Williams suggests history has always favored the elite, and many of these declarations are delivered through the concept album's main character, a hacker from Burundi who aims to rip the system like Edward Snowden or Chelsea Manning. "Burundi" and "The Noise Came from Here" tell this character's back-story best, while "All Coltrane Solos at Once" is the brilliant way the Martyr Loser Hero of the album comes into enlightenment with some slave-trade metaphors worked into the story ("My identity was encrusted with the myth of having been chosen" or maybe "We were crowded in the shit pit of a floating toilet, dreaming of an afterlife"). There's beauty in the record too, and as the character goes clubbing he falls for a woman so beautiful "she was wearing red and purple light," but till things get brighter, Williams remains the data-age Gil Scott-Heron plus a collaborator who elevates, as Reznor, and now Warfield, have both upped their game in the presence of such a radiant creative force.
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AllMusic Review by David Jeffries