In 2007, then 20-year-old George Watsky and his band at the time, Invisible Inc., rented out Slim’s nightclub in San Francisco and put themselves on stage as the opening act. Sadly, Watsky spent years repaying back the loan that he lost on that show.
Flash forward five years to the present, and on Sunday, July 29 the now 25-year-old under the stage name “Watsky” will be headlining a show at Slim’s, presented by Slim’s itself. Watsky’s performance in San Francisco is part of a 22-city national tour, which kicked off on July 1 in Tempe, Ariz. and wraps up July 31 in LA (including three shows in London, England after the national tour ends).
The last time SFBG covered the Bay Area native and alumna of San Francisco’s University High School was back in 2008 when he was dominating the world of spoken word. He had recently been crowned champion of the National Brave New Voices competition and had made an appearance on Russell Simmons’ HBO show, Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry.
Since then, up until a couple weeks ago, Watsky has been at college campuses across the US, performing his highly demanded spoken word poetry. But in 2009, Watsky showed fans another side to his creativity with the release of a studio rap album titled Watsky.
I spoke to Watsky over the phone about his current rap success while Watsky and his band were en route to Illinois, for a show in Chicago the following night. “I’ve been rapping since before I started doing poetry,” said Watsky. “I’ve been doing my best to get my rap out there parallel to my poetry career it’s just taken a while to catch on to an audience.”
Well it finally caught on in 2011, when Watksy put out a Youtube video that launched himself into Youtube stardom, titled “Pale Kid Raps Fast”. The video went viral, spreading to teenagers' computers quicker than it took for their Cup Noodles to settle. It quickly amassed millions of views (over 20 million to date), multiplied Watsky’s subscribers 20 fold, and earned him an appearance on The Ellen Degeneres Show.
For Watsky, the success of “Pale Kid Raps Fast” couldn’t have come at a better time. “That video came about in a time when I was really frustrated,” said Watsky, who had just moved to LA and was trying to make it as an actor, but with little success.
“When I came back to LA after Christmas I decided I was going to take matters into my own hands.” And that’s exactly what he did. Watsky boiled down all of his talents into a single video; adding elements of humor, lyrical skill, and impressive speed. “Everything just kind of came together” said Watsky “[Pale Kid Raps Fast] came out of a sense of what are kids looking for that could be shared around and can show them exactly who I am and maybe peak their curiosity to look into my other stuff.”
Along with his Youtube videos, Watsky continued to build a solid fan base with releases of mixtapes like his first in 2011 titled, A New Kind of Sexy. He followed in early 2012 with the release of a bluegrass/hip-hop EP, tag teaming with his bandmate Kush Mody titled, Watsky and Mody. And in June of this year, Watsky released his most recent mixtape, Nothing Like the First Time, which coincided with his national tour.
He's been enjoying the support and energy he’s been receiving from his diverse audiences on tour. “I do have a young element to my fan base but I also have a bunch of older people coming out too and a lot of these kids' parents actually like my music also. They’re anywhere from 15-years-old to 45-years-old,” he said, adding that some of the older audience members come to his shows because they're fans of his poetry or saw him on Def Poetry Slam. “Even some English teachers come to my shows and tell me they use my work in their classroom,” he said.
Watsky offers a style that can’t really be defined. And often times critics who seem to have only heard a sample of Watsky’s work or even just seen a headshot, tend to throw him into the category of “white rapper” or the “Frat rap scene.”
“First of all, I was never in a fraternity,” Watsky joked. “I think the easiest way to go is to lump me in there with the other white rappers that are breaking right now. It’s accurate; I mean I am a white rapper.”
“But I’m different than Mac Miller, I’m different than Kreayshawn, I’m different than Bo Burnham, I’m different than Chris Webby in ways that I could go on about for a long time – and they’re all different than me. And it’s not like one of us is better or worse than the other, it’s just that we are speaking to different groups of people based on our experiences.”
Watsky is different. He offers something unique and genuine. “The one thing that I try and make sure that I always come back to is that [my music] is honest,” said Watsky. “When I go back to my earlier stuff, sometimes I feel like it’s not entirely me like my voice doesn’t sound like how it does in conversation. I always want people who listen to my poetry to feel like they are listening to the exact same person when they listen to my music and vice-versa and I think what’s really important to me is that I’m always coming across exactly as myself and that I’m not putting on any airs.”
You would think that after 48.5 million total Youtube views, two appearances on The Ellen Degeneres Show, two appearances at VidCon, and a profile on Last Call with Carson Daily, life would have changed dramatically, not really. “To be honest my day-to-day lifestyle didn’t change a whole lot,” said Watsky. “[It] didn’t change much at all until we hit the road. Until two weeks ago I didn’t see any real change in my life except for the increase in Youtube hits.”
After a decade of trying to make it on to the national scene, Watsky isn’t looking for a shortcut. Shortly after the video went viral, T-mobile offered Watsky a quarter of a million dollars to do a fast rap commercial. He turned down the deal.
Luckily for Watsky, the patience has paid off. In mid-May he was selected to perform at the 2012 Rock The Bells Festival in August, alongside hip-hop heavy weights like Nas, Jadakiss, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Kendrick Lamar, and Kid Cudi. “I’m thrilled,” Watsky said. “It’s going to be great because I’m the kid who was at Rock The Bells three years ago, fours years ago as an audience member. It’s totally unreal to be crossing over to the other side of the stage.”
At the moment, the stage Watsky is most looking forward to is the one at Slim’s. “I’m really excited to come back to San Francisco, it’s the show on the whole tour that I have been really excited about more than any other,” said Watsky.
My final question to Watsky was, what can we expect from a Watsky concert? A live five-piece band, songs from all of his projects, a little spoken word, and a lot of fun. Said Watsky, “Expect to be entertained and have a good time because we are going to put our all into it.”
With Dumbfoundead, the Breezy Lovejoy Band
Sun/29, 9pm, $16
333 11th St., SF