"Spoken word" isn't the sexiest term in hip-hop, but it signals a point where the genre's artistry becomes more eclectic and free. American-born, Paris-dwelling artist Saul Williams and Dessa of Minneapolis' Doomtree crew blend rapping, singing and poetic monologues within a single track - sometimes a single line. Both artists will emphasize hip-hop's spoken side during sets at UW-Madison's Memorial Union Terrace Sept. 13.
Williams' current tour supports Chorus, a "literary mixtape" featuring poems he and editors Dufflyn Lammers and Aja Monet solicited via social media. According to Bold As Love, he received about 8,000 poems, then picked 100 to highlight. He attempted to "put the titles and authors aside," he told the magazine, adding that the "themes arose organically, as did the sequence of the poems."
This means Williams' set will defy the notion of a single author who has a unified vision and a definable personality. Using just one mouth, Williams will try to reconcile the voices of 100 writers.
Dessa won't get quite as experimental.
"I'll be telling a series of true stories centered on death, love, loss and communion," she said in an email exchange last week. "If I do it right, there will be some moments of noir humor, some well-crafted poetry and some poignant revelations."
In addition to combining different kinds of vocal delivery, both artists explore disparate musical sounds. "Look to the Sun," the first track on Williams' 2011 album, Volcanic Sunlight, approximates the sleek soul of TV on the Radio, while 2007's The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust! boasts the abrasive synth attack of his most famous collaborator, Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor. The shadowy, stately backdrops that fill much of Dessa's 2010 album, A Badly Broken Code, turn into a cocky, bouncy vibe for the song "Dutch."
Words aren't just a mode of communication when Dessa and Williams perform. They point to wide and flexible musical imaginations. See what these two artists dream up at the show.