George Watsky is the paradox he raps about, and he's not ashamed to admit it. Over the past few years he's built a name for himself around his poetic and often quirky lyricisms, first rising through the ranks on the slam poetry circuit before catapulting into the upper echelons of viral hip-hop. In 2011 his "Pale Kid Raps Fast" video was, like, totally all the rage on YouTube, but to the surprise of millions of Internet trolls, the young MC was spitting lines way before swarms of hashtaggers leant him 120 characters, and he'll likely be doing it long after.
Watsky's Cardboard Castles, his second full-length (out this month on Steel Wool Records), debuted at No. 1 on the iTunes hip-hop charts. Sticking close to the tongue-twisting lyricisms he's come to be known for, Watsky's new album stares down some of life's biggest unanswered questions framed through the trite, monotonous, and often-inescapable lens of everyday life. Couple his often sincere, witty, and humorous verses of sarcastic truths with a foundation of smoothly produced melodies and crooning vocal hooks, and the 17-track package offers up a diverse and profound mix rooted in casual West Coast hip-hop. There's a little something for everyone, and a lot for those looking for more in life than dope boy antics and indiscriminate club bangers.
We caught up with Watsky as he hit the road to support his new album to get the scoop on the second season of his Web series, why nobody wants to be like the Verizon Guy, and how even though global warming is fucked up he's not about to sell his Subaru:
Watsky, Dumbfoundead at the Masquerade. Sat., March 23. 7 p.m. $14 adv
It's hard to pick and choose between different projects, but honestly I'm most excited about the album. It's such a pouring out of my heart and perspective on the world. The album and the tour go hand-in-hand. I love playing live. It's my favorite thing to do, and nothing beats a concert experience. You can't replicate it on YouTube. You can't replicate it in your headphones. I just can't wait to be on the road for the next three months.
Cardboard Castles marks your second full-length release. What sets it apart from your 2009 self-titled album?
In terms of what I bring lyrically, both albums are similar. There's a mix of fast stuff, slower-paced stuff, humor, and seriousness. I think most of my growth is in the musicality of it. This one's a lot more melodic and there's a lot more depth to the singing sections, the hooks, and the harmonies. I've always taken pride in trying to have clever lyrics, punch lines, and switch up my flow and stuff, but I really wanted to make this album listenable. I wanted it to bring my own personality and strength as a lyricist to the table and still make it palatable for a more general audience, but not sell short all the lyricism I've prided myself in the past two years.
Cardboard Castles starts out with a lot of songs that highlight the grind of the music industry and, along with the first season-two episode in your web series, kind of questions what it means to be a success in this industry. What is your definition of success?
I think the core message of the whole album is exploring this paradox: This generation, more than any other, wants to feel validated and feel like we're individually important, but we know in the back of our logical brains that there are more than 6.5 billion people on this planet that have important struggles to deal with on a daily basis. There's something hypocritical and fucked-up about being so self-absorbed all the time. Like, I can't explain why I spend 100 percent of my time trying to become famous when I know I don't deserve it anymore than someone else does. But I have this undeniable drive when I wake up in the morning to do it. It's so easy to create content and get your work out there, but at the same time we put celebrities up on such a pedestal. I wanted to explore that in my own way. I covet that, but at the same time I know that it's stupid. There are a lot of people out there with bigger problems than me - most of them, in fact - and I think there's something really shallow in a lot of hip-hop that's out.
So then what's your end game?
To me the end game is sustainability, to be able to have a long career. I would much rather be able to play the same size venues as I am right now 20 years from now because I stuck to my guns and my convictions as an artist than try everything I can to play stadiums right now. I don't think being a cookie-cutter radio artist is right for me. I'd rather have a slow-burn path to a long, sustainable, and passionate fan base than try and have a platinum album and a stadium tour right now.
You kind of infamously turned down a part in a T-Mobile commercial a while back, you've done a lot of independent releases, and even given away some of your other albums for free. You seem to be a man that sticks to his principles. How important is that to you?
My dream isn't to be famous and well-known. My dream is for people to take me seriously and love what I do. When I get up in the morning I'm inspired to create because of the people I look up to and admire. The people whose careers I admire and pattern myself after aren't the Verizon Guy or Jared from Subway. That's a path to easy money, but it's also a path to losing all credibility incredibly fast.
I had a hole to dig myself out of. Two years ago the way I got all this exposure was through a viral video that, yeah, showcased my skills and I'm proud of it - it was my personality - but at the same time it was a novelty. There was a lot of people that didn't take me seriously because of it, and I had a choice of whether to try and continue on that YouTube path of replicating that viral success, or trying to really buckle down and create art I was passionate about and take a slower path to kind of have the career that I really want.
I think I'm pretty close to that second stage of my career where I feel like I don't have to fight against that anymore. The stuff I'm getting exposure for now is eclipsing that original burst, and that's a good feeling.
It's no secret that the digital age has kind of turned the music industry on its head. You've been able to use that to your advantage and leverage it in a lot of ways - the obvious one being your "Pale Kid Raps Fast" video that went viral. How does all of that play into the state of the industry today?
The digital revolution has made my career possible. I think I would probably be a screenwriter or something right now if it weren't for the Internet. The kind of quirkiness I have to my voice and the style of music I have, I don't think it's something a major label would have invested in 10 years ago when it was all MTV countdowns and "106 & Park." It's provided an avenue for artists like me who bring something unique to the table to really target fans who are passionate about what we do. You don't need a bigwig at a label, you don't need a casting executive. You just need your direct audience to respond to your work, and that's really a revolutionary, amazing thing.
Yeah. It's similar to what I was saying about that self-absorption and the desire for fame and notoriety in a world that's so huge. That paradox is part of it. It's knowing that it's fucked up that I'm on my phone all the time Twittering and Facebooking. We're more connected and less connected than any time before in history. We're more connected to each other all over the world, we have more access to information at our fingertips than ever before - and that's amazing - but at the same time while we're plugging ourselves into this world we're unplugging ourselves from the physical world we're in. If we're absorbed in the world of our cell phones sometimes we're not as aware of what's going on and we're losing touch with the present moment. That is a dangerous drug, and one I'm extremely addicted to also.
But I don't want to be putting everyone else on blast. Sometimes what pisses me off the most about very angry art is when that anger is directed externally and we're not implicating ourselves in this fucked-up shit that's going on. That's when we're losing sight. I'm a cog in this machine, too. Yeah, global warming is fucked up, but I still drive a Subaru.
Watsky, Dumbfoundead at the Masquerade. Sat., March 23. 7 p.m. $14 adv
Yes, 14 is the correct answer. I'll pass your info along to the group's manager,…
That was January of 2007, and they are 21 now, so I'm guessing 14?
WWW you trying to date big boi? Sounds like you got a lil bromance bruh
i don't see any valid reason to bring up big boi's divorce in this situation..…