A skinny kid fresh out of college, George Watsky’s appearance doesn’t scream “hip-hop”—with his big blue eyes and awkward frame, he looks more Michael Cera than Slug. But closing one’s eyes and blasting a track off of Watsky’s latest album, Cardboard Castles, vanquishes all doubts. This Bay Area rapper brings swagger to his lyrics, which have helped him earn a rep in the rap world.
From humble beginnings, Watsky first found his voice in slam poetry. With a knack for wordplay, he embraced his inner and outer nerd and found a home onstage, performing across the country. His first big stage performance came in 2007, when he competed on HBO’s Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry.
With a passion for fast-paced verbiage, Watsky soon moved from slam to rap music, gaining his first big break via a YouTube video called “Pale Kid Raps Fast.” This viral video got Watsky respect from fellow fast rappers and a spot on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, where Watsky showed off his speedy skills.
In an effort to become more than a YouTube sensation, in 2009, Watsky released his self-produced, self-titled debut album. But, no matter how deep Watsky gets into the music scene, he maintains his identity as a poet.
“I think that poetry and rap go hand in hand with each other, and what draws me to both those things is the same: just word play [and] communication,” Watsky says. “Both in spoken word and rap, there’s an expectation from the audience that you’re going to be honest and real as a performer and as a writer.”
Fans of hard gangster rap might not enjoy Watsky, whose lyrics oscillate between comedic looks at everyday life and emotional issues that plague society. “Color Lines,” a track from Watsky, is a rap battle that dives into the racial relations prevalent in rap music.
A track from Cardboard Castles called “Tiny Glowing Screens Part 2” tackles a theme that inspired not only the album, but much of Watsky’s own philosophy: “I don’t believe that I’m special,” he says. “I don’t believe I’m more important than other people. I think that there are so many people on this planet that are dealing with their own struggles on a daily basis that we need to be able to acknowledge that other peoples’ voices are important, too.”
That same humility also drives Watsky in his side projects. Watsky’s passion for words has led him to participate in the YouTube series Epic Rap Battles of History and to travel the country to speak on environmental sustainability.
As one dives into Watsky’s catalog and personal ambitions, what you see is a passionate kid following his many dreams. Watsky’s varied passions bleed over into his music—his albums are essentially a diary of his ups and downs. The raw nature of his poetry combined with Motown- and folk-inspired beats make for tracks that are evocative, rewarding and, at times, elusive.
“I think that I like to have an element of unpredictability in my music,” Watsky says. “I try to keep people on their toes and not expect any one thing from me. But I think that there’s a sincerity in everything at its core, and I try to have a sincerity with a little bit of an edge of humor so that nothing is taking itself too seriously.”
741 S. Kilby Court (330 West)
Friday, April 19, 7 p.m.
$12 in advance, $14 day of show