Saul Williams ain’t promoting Nike, it’s the other way around. At least that’s his perspective. This has made the rounds but just wanted to make sure people get a chance to see. Track and commercial after the jump. (v i a)

related: Krs-One Explains Why He’s Not Selling Out, Authenticity Is The New Business Model

update: Some comments by Saul Williams after the jump. Long read but definitely a must.

[audio: Williams – List Of Demands (Reparations) (96kbps).mp3]
Download Saul Williams – List Of Demands (Reparations)

My better Nike

FYI guys Nike sales don’t actually fluctuate much based on their ad campaigns, they pretty much stay the same, based on actual sports figures. However, the amount of interest in the artists they feature does seem to raise. So, I repeat:

The question is not why is Saul Williams doing a Nike commercial, but rather, why is Nike doing a Saul Williams commercial? Could it somehow be related to why McDonalds is selling veggie burgers , car companies are creating hybrids, or Wal-Mart is going green? Is there any relation between the Niggy Tardust lyrics, “ …Paint him on your lunchbox or your thermos for a fee…side effects may include simply doing what you say..” and Even if Nike is only making changes in their business tactics in response to the heat they”ve caught, they’ve actually gone to the point of now being a leader in getting foreign governments (and it’s the governments that have major changes to make) to stop child factory labor. Fact is, when I lived in Brasil, the city I lived in only offered high school classes at night because most kids my age had to work during the day (in their case, farms not factories). By day, many of them were picking fruit that we find in our grocery stores here. Now pose yourself this question: if you made veggie burgers for a living, filled with vitamins and all sorts of goodies intended to boost the immune system and support a healthy heart and Wendy’s contacted you and said, “Hey, we’d like to carry your veggie burgers in our store” would you become excited about all the people who might now experience the wonderful effects and health benefits of your veggie burger or would you say, “Fuck you! You and your cows are depleting the rain forest” and let them get their veggie burger from someone else (who uses egg whites in their mix)? { What if you could get them to start using biodegradable stuff to wrap them in? what if they decided to use it on all of their products? }

Ofcourse, you could also opt to open your own business and slowly begin to learn what it takes (and takes) to expand your vision. Or not.

The revolution is not eco-elitist. It involves leaving enough slack in the rope for the existing norm to change it’s ways, shift it’s patterns, and apply our growing concerns to new business models. There is certainly a time when a loud and emphatic NO! achieves the best result, but there are also times to invite those who have known no better into the broader realm of discussion and be a part of the paradigm shift.

I actually sat with the global director of Nike last week (yes, he got a chance to hang with Niggy for a day) and learned first hand about the history and the changes implemented in the corporation and it’s factories. A corporation, I might add, that ain’t going out of business anytime soon. What they hope to accomplish, factory-wise, by 2011 is pretty complex and if they are able to do it, it will effect many other brands and how they do business as well. I’m not trying to make them out to be the messiah or anything, I’m simply saying that if you think your cynical analysis as to why I would allow my song to play in that commercial is more their master plan than mine then maybe you’re giving too much power to the corporate entities and too little to the age and times we are living in. Maybe you don’t realize the power of artists and of art.

See, my activism has taken me from sticking my middle finger up at people who think differently than me to engaging in dialogue with those in position to make changes while realizing the power of my/our influence in these discussions. I didn’t go into business with Nike, they went into business with me and now begins the process of them putting their money where my mouth is. We talked about sports camps in inner cities, Africa, India, and Asia. We talked about scholarships. And as stated earlier, yes, we definitely talked about sweat shops and child labor.

I am with you in not trusting the media and the so-called powers that be, but if those powers have made us less than exuberant about being alive, less than imaginative about the change that we might create in our lifetime, less than aware of the fact that the powers of being will always prevail over the powers that be, then you’re already wearing the suit that you have rejected. The uniformity of cynicism that appeals to the intellectual elite, to the do-gooders, and the so-called rebels of our times is bad business for creative prosperity. We need to focus our energy on the creative upliftment of our times. Imagine the best possible results and begin manifesting them.

Measure the conceit of your choices. Are you defined by how much you’ve said No to or by the passion of your Yes? Your choices are your own. Your decisions are your own. Do not surrender the power of your perspective to cliché forms of analysis. We grow and learn, just like mega-corporations. We surrender our lesser practices for new and improved means of achieving our goals. As we raise our standards so does the world around us.

ps: Lose your cynicism. It’s way more powerful than ignorance, simply because it is pointed. If you are amongst us hoping and praying for change, do not invest in the negative “what if” conversations without realizing that you may be feeding that possibility by focused projection.


Three of my books are published by MTV and I discuss my reasons for that in the middle of ,said the shotgun. Now is the MTV/Viacom machine much different than NIke? Probably not. I’ve sat with those executives too. My first album was distributed by Sony/Columbia, I met with those executives too. My film Slam was distributed by Trimark, I met with those executives too. I say all this to say that if you wish to think that I am now working from within the system, then you should probably conclude that I have been all along. But in my, opinion, you’ll still be giving too much power to “the system” and not enough power to the fact that I all I have done is used the existing infrastructure to crumble it. That was my goal with Slam and remains. It is not contradictory to my stating that many in commercial hip hop are stating, believing, or teaching that money is power. In fact I’m actually demonstrating how we can use our collective spirit, our power, our insight, and their money against them. By the way, I am participating in this discussion because I think it’s important that all would be revolutionaries upgrade their idea of how, when, and why, and through what means the revolution takes place. Ofcourse, my perspective is that it is internal: a shift of ideals, values etc, and then a re-application of ones wealth, spirit, and intelligence as applied to the world at large. Think of the number of people who either, one, know nothing of Nike’s practices past or present, never even considered holding a corporation responsible for being about change, maybe even some of them are athletes (and most atheletes have a very different perspective of the Nike brand and corporation), two, think of the many people that never hear of me until now, who saw the commercial, researched the song, listened to the lyrics, sought out more material and are now on the path of possibly thinking in new ways about themselves, about art, about the media, about race, about America, etc. (they’re sending me long letters on myspace), three, think of the computer you’re typing on, who made it? where? using what? from where? and realize that the inevitable rise and liberation of us all is dependent on threads like this as much as they are dependent on artists like Sage, or people like you, and that all of us have a lot of growing up to do, alot to contemplate and question, and that standing firm on your position is much easier at times than re-thinking, forgiving, broadening your scope etc. The fact is, I chose to do the ad, because i remembered the time when I wouldn’t and I needed practice in articulating why and how my views had expanded. It was the same thing that I was attempting to express in the song Niggy Tardust with the “paint him on your lunchbox” line. I think you move through ranks with your learning. Just as I have expressed that I went through times when I hated white people and that those times were preceded by times when I wished I was white, and am now looking at a bigger, broader, and more compassionate picture, I have also, grown alot in my perspective as to why I create art, how I choose to package, market, or sell it, and what it all means to my proccess. I certainly used to think that anyone who made money off their art was a sellout. I grew out of that when I was offered an initial 7 grand to make Slam which was more money than I ever had in my life. Then I learned about getting short changed etc., playing my cards differently etc. However, throughout all of my growth process you seldom hear me talk about money in my work. why? ’cause it ain’t the lesson I’ve aimed to teach. We got enough emcees teaching that lesson, and I’m actually not dissing when I say that. I think what Jay z has taught drug dealers about flipping their loot into legitimacy is really important. The CIA wasn’t gonna teach that after they brought the drugs in, so more power to him. He actually upgraded alot of the community with that. And so did many others. That discussion is not my forte though. What I’m trying to show now is that even my perspective on those rappers you hear me talk about on the wakeup show has shifted in the time between then and now. Not that I think their views are any less republican, simply that I’ve found a better way of expressing my perspective and also a clearer insight into the pro’s of their actions instead of only voicing the cons, which is basically just easy. Think Malcolm X vs. El Hajj Malik el Shabazz. Most of us prefer Malcolm X, Just like many people love to hear me spit Amethyst Rocks. Why? ’cause we like that anger and it’s willfully destructive qualities. But there’s something that comes after that. And if u stick around for a minute you begin to learn from and through your anger and channel it into a more articulate rage. That’s the difference between amethyst Rocks and , Saiid the Shotgun. me then and me now. I’m blossoming y’all and I really dig it, even if you don’t.


1. Is white privilege ever mentioned or the varying modes of dissent in different communities? Does anyone acknowledge that my largely white underground fanbase may be upset by the ad but that a grand majority of the people my music addresses may not have had me under their radar until now?… Including those who would most readily benefit from ‘reparations’, who are now swopping airforce ones online, and have given little thought to corporate integrity suddenly are exposed to these ideas and more through my work?

Two quotes come to mind here:
“If I contradict myself it is because I contain multitudes”
Walt Whitman

“I contradict myself? I contradict myself!”
Oscar Wilde

2. The next thing that comes to mind is cynicism and those who define their political consciousness by mere dissent and what they say no to versus what they are open to and the power of their Yes. I think of this primarily because when I spoke to a Nike exec last week and asked if they were aware of the hate they get from the thinking few, which was really my way of bringing up to see how real it was, I was surprised by the steps they are taking and the people they are bringing in to help them shift their corporation. This has made me contemplate how the activist responds when their rally cry is heard. Are
we prepared to show love to those who begin to correct their wrongs or do we damn them to hell? As an ‘AfricanAmerican’, I’ve had to learn to be very forgiving towards people who in many cases simply knew no better and didn’t realize the weight of their comments or actions on me.

By the way, what struck me the most about visiting the Nike headquarters was not that they were corporate vampires, but they were all ex-athletes and coaches who had gotten injured or retired and started working with Nike. That whole ‘did u see the game?’ mentality was the main vibe of the whole place. Very different from a corporate empire as I might imagine. No suits, just basketball hoops in offices, blaring sports center moniters, and story swopping about their kids playing for whatever school and winning or losing. They were a bunch of jocks who thought my music was great to work out to and then found that it resonated a little deeper with each listen. I didn’t know it was founded by two track stars (one was Prefontaines coach and is credited with
bringing/popularizing jogging to the states) who were hired by Tiger, a japanese training shoe company, who eventually left the company to start their own using their Tiger connections..thus the asian factory connection. Ofcourse the cultural norm in other lands, in particular in regards to working age and hours can be pretty fucked outside of our zone of priviege. And the fact is, smaller US companies benefit from these practices now more than Nike, but because of their size and dimension, Nike is one of the few who can actually make demands to the governments of these countries to change their ways, which is the only way to truly end child labor or sweatshops when it is a cultural norm. It was interesting to learn of how most of the higher ups started paying
attention to this only because their kids started asking questions. So then they started asking questions and are now in the middle of a major shift, just like the record industry, just like America. Just like me, I might add. I’ve gone from saying fuck you to those I disagree with to actually sitting down with them and realizing that I could influence their behavior better through dialogue. An example of this is how Kanye’s Diamonds are from Sierre Leone song came about. It was originally entitled Diamonds are Forever, but when my producing partner, Tiffany Persons sent a treatment that I wrote of a doc we were then working on about the relationship between the attrocities surrounding diamond mines in Africa and Hip Hop and the African American population,
he actually called us saying he had no clue and could we come give him a crash course. So we did. First he changed the name of the song, then he had me come sit with him and Hype Williams as they mapped out a video tracing a diamond from a mine to a showcase. Years earlier, I had had a pretty big argument with my girlfriend of the time, a friend of Hypes, who had invited him to dinner with us, where I had refused to say a word to him cause I couldn’t stand his effect on hip hop through his affiliation with puffy and such…

Anyway, back to my Nike tour, i actually couldn’t believe how much money sports generate, which is great when I remember that just last year I was thinking of national sports teams being possibly the best alternative to war. People need something to do with their nationalism. Anyway, as u can see, I learned and am learning a lot through this little gesture of saying yes where in the past I would have said no.

Its funny cause my new year resolution back in 2002 was to say yes to whatever comes, cause I had spent previous years saying No to so much and I wanted to see if I could trust the possibility of the universe bringing things my way for my growth and spiritual prosperity rather than for the sake or test of my rejection. That year, the thing I said yes to was the TV show Girlfriends, a UPN sitcom produced by Kelsey Grammar. Not only did I learn not to judge a book by its cover by meeting and interacting with the super-smart and funny women who created and star in the show, who raised politicized questions behind the scenes about their characters and lines in ways I never imagined they would, but I also met, Persia, whose boyfreind I played on the show, and is now
my wife (its been 30 days!).

This year my new years resolution was to accept greater responsibility. The definition of responsibility that I like best has primarily to do with handling greater amounts of energy. To me, this involves not shying away from anything from responding to emails or song liscensing requests even though the repercussions may demand more of my attention than I feel like giving. In the case of this commercial which uses my song, I really do believe that its my song that’s using the commercial. And no I do not stand behind all the harm that major corporations can and have done to humanity and that also goes for Apple (which aint green) and countless others that I believe we will make more responsible for their actions through dialogue such as this and by the mere evolution of our
awareness. And yes, also by the power of our dissent. Creative dissent makes the biggest waves it seems. But sometimes saying No or Fuck you is way to easy when we ostracize a world of change we could create. Blah Blah. Pull this van over I gotta piss.