cover image The Dead Emcee Scrolls

The Dead Emcee Scrolls

Saul Williams, . . MTV Books, $12.95 (176pp) ISBN 978-1-4165-1632-3

Williams is not the first to take hip-hop diction and rhyme to the page and make beautiful stanzaic poetry (see everyone from Gil Scott-Heron to Thomas Sayers Ellis), but he creates, in this third book, a kind of "In Memorium" for hip-hop's redemptive promise, trying, as Tennyson did, to find light shining through the wreckage of hope. If this effort falls short of that great poem, the ambition behind it is not the less for it. Skip the self-mythologizing intro and launch right into the long opening serial poem, "NGH WHT": "BCH NGH. Gun trigga. Dick's bigga. Why/ fuck? Killer. Blood spiller. Mack/ truck. Bad luck, fuckin with this black buck./ Bigger Thomas, I promise. Leave a corpse in/ the furnace." The sly way in which the speaker simultaneously inhabits and repudiates male rap clichés and effects sonic sneak attacks (one hears "kill her" in "killer") gets worked out over 33 "chapters" of anywhere from three to 10 stanzas, giving a fierce, assured tour of hip-hop history and contradiction. There are six other, shorter serial poems, and the book's last third consists of verse "Journal Entries." Williams, who starred in Slam, has authored two previous books, s/he and said the shotgun to the head ; both are uneven and contain long, ambitious pieces, but neither has a poem like "NGH WHT." (Feb.)