In 1998, Ninja Tune, an independent UK record label, released the Elohim (1972) EP, debut release of poet, actor & MC, Saul Williams. Whilst heard from time to time in the years since, Twice the First Time, its standout track, has always seemed massively slept on.
On Twice the First Time, spoken word poet-cum-MC Saul Williams appears to challenge the restraints and limitations of hip hop, whilst simultaneously attempting to expand them, acclaiming he “will not rhyme on tracks”, correlating the tracks MCs rap on and the “tracks” that (predominantly black) chain gangs worked on, typically in the American south in the early 20th century.
Subsequently, he comments on the dichotomy of urban life – its influence on hip hop and at the same time its negative psychological impact.
Cities play upon our souls like broken drums
Re-drum the essence of creation from city slums
But city slums mute our drums and our drums become humdrums
The music meanwhile, handled by the still relatively unknown Native Sun, is dominated by sombre strings and a beatbox rhythm that perfectly complements Saul’s promise not to “rhyme over tracks”:
As if the heartbeat wasn’t enough
They got us using drum machines now
Drums live in machines
Tryin’ to make our drums humdrums
Tryin’ to mute our magic
On Twice the First Time, we hear Saul Williams in that hyperdrive moment of his career. In a short space of time, Saul would go from sharing stages at NYC’s Nuyorican Poets Cafe with the likes Mos Def and Sarah Jones, to starring in and co-writing Slam, a Sundance winning film, and releasing a Rick Rubin co-produced album on a major record label. In the meantime, Saul recorded a few songs for smaller labels that have truly stood the test of time, amongst which, Twice the First Time is arguably the greatest.
However, Twice the First Time is not the only treasure here. The EP’s title track takes hip hop braggadocio to other worlds as Saul looks way beyond this Earthly realm for limits to his talent – best heard over the industrial boom bap of Part 2’s 25:03 remix.
The EP also includes an acapella of the track plus both Elohim (1972) instrumentals.
Elohim (1972) EP can still be found for an affordable price. Moreover, Twice the First Time can also be found on Ninja Tune’s excellent Xen Cuts compilation and Ozone Music’s Eargasms-Crucialpoetics Vol.1, compilation, curated and largely produced by Native Sun, which aims to bridge hip hop & poetry and features early work from Mike Ladd and Carl Hancock Rux.
Taken from the latest edition of the BOOM MUSIC show by Colectivo Futuro. Listen below!