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By Daniela J. Lamas, Crimson Staff Writer

Poet, rapper and actor Saul Williams recited poetry and discussed the state of the hip-hop music industry before a crowd that filled Longfellow Hall last night.

In between his poems, Williams, the author of two books of poetry--The Seventh Octave and She --gave candid answers to audience questions that spanned from his upbringing to his belief in God.

He told the audience that his poetry was primarily inspired by the hip-hop music movement.

"What made me first put my pen to paper was hip-hop," he said. "I started taking a dictionary, finding words I didn't know and putting it in raps."

When he was starting to rap, Williams was also studying Shakespeare at school--something that he said helps explain the blurred line between his music and poetry.

"By the time I was eleven, I was trying to write rhymes in old English," he quipped. "I was blessed to have a wonderful education, but the soundtrack to all of that was hip-hop."

But since the time when he began writing, Williams said hip-hop music in has deteriorated significantly.

"What you see in mainstream hip-hop is not a natural evolution," he said. "What's now popular is like some type of caricatured offshoot."

Still, he said he was optimistic about the future of the genre--in part because of new talent entering the industry.

"You can see the transition slowly happening," Williams said. "I've met so many people that are on the cusp. Everyone is hungry for something new."

Williams admitted that much of his current popularity derives from the energy with which he performs his work but said his poetry could still be powerful in its written form.

"There is a difference between the recited word and the word that is read," Williams said.

He said he often read Shakespeare's work aloud in order to understand it better--a technique that he urged audience members to replicate with his own writings.

"So my voice can be replaced by your own," he said. "That is the power of word. With or without my voice, there is a life for the words."

But for those admirers who still wanted to hear the artist recite his own work, Williams joked that his second book does come with a compact disc.

Williams, who won the Grand Jury prize at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival for his portrayal of an imprisoned street poet in the movie Slam, also discussed the differing ideologies between "slam" poetry and "the black arts movement."

Williams' speech was part of the Askwith Education Forum, an occasional series that most recently hosted Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Frank McCourt.

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