Poet, writer and actor Saul Williams released his third album, The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust, with little fanfare last November. Williams partnered with rocker Trent Reznor, of Nine Inch Nails fame and allowed consumers to select a free digital download or pay $5 for a higher quality version of the album. The result was a larger share of smaller sales. Williams sold 154,449 copies in roughly two months, with 28,322 of those copies being the $5 higher quality version. Then Nike called.
After Nike used “List of Demands,” a song from Williams‘ self-titled 2004 album for its SPARQ advertisements, over 225,000 people downloaded NiggyTardust, and 60,000 paid for the $5 version. Based upon the success of his digital version, Williams will be releasing both a standard CD and a double-vinyl version of NiggyTardust on July 8.
Had Williams been on a major label, he likely would have faced the same problem Nas is facing; many retailers refused to carry Nas‘ now untitled album when it was still entitled Nigger. Williams will net at least $300,000 from the $5 version of NiggyTardust, and this does not include any fees or agreements with Nike to use “List of Demands.” While such profits are rare in Hip Hop’s declining marketplace, Williams cites exposure as his motivation.
“And at the end of the day, it’s been about the exposure,” Williams tells Advertising Age. “Not only the exposure to me and my music, but for me, who always falls in the category of being a ‘message writer,’ there are a lot of people being exposed to perhaps a new way of thinking, some new ideas, and that really excites me.”