By Micheal Ives, Extreme Alaska
If there is a cookie-cutter mold for shaping hip-hop artists, emcee George Watsky escaped its design. Coming up as a college student/poet in San Francisco, California, Watsky gained notoriety as a slam poet. After winning several slam poetry awards and appearing on HBO’s Russell Simmons presents Def Poetry, he journeyed into the world of hip-hop music in 2007. While George Watsky is not the physical picture you would expect to see from a top-notch lyrical wordsmith (the 26-year-old self-described “half-Jewish” artist looks like a spitting image of actor Michael Cera, famous for his skinny, nerdy-but-lovable characters in films like Juno and Superbad), Watsky personifies what hip-hop music is all about. On his newest album “Cardboard Castles” Watsky combines tongue-twisting lyrics with gorgeous beats and production.
“Cardboard Castles” is everything a rap music fan could want in a hip-hop album. Watsky takes the listener for a journey through his life as he goes from storytelling on tracks like “The Legend of Hardhead Ned” and “Dedicated to Christina Li” to straight rapper braggadocio lyrical fire on songs like “Moral of the Story”. What sets Watsky apart from the crowd isn’t just his rapid-fire rhyme flow that rivals famous speed-spitters such as Twista, but the diversity and smarts of his songs. He can can have us laughing out loud while our car speakers shake the tail lights off (“I think I’m gonna walk out the door/ Hop in my DeLorean/ And I’m gonna soar/ Except that it’s a Subaru/ And I’m yelling ‘Hoo-dy Hoo!’/ Hanging out the window like I’m Marty McFly”) on the track “Ugly Faces”. Or let Watsky explain his daily struggle in a way that most of us can well understand (“Spent a half-an-hour/ Sitting in the bottom of my shower/ Letting the water run over my body and dammit I wanted to get up but I didn’t have the power!”) on the song “Hey, Asshole” where the sultry voice of Kate Nash belts the blunt chorus. Watsky has found a way to beautifully use hip-hop to portray his own normal, unexciting, and flash-free life. There is something very refreshing with his honest and personal tales and struggles. Watsky has used his poetry acumen to master hip-hop’s lyrical flurry and now joined it with masterful production ranging from subwoofer rattling drum lines to lustful acoustic guitar and horns, and the result on “Cardboard Castles” is a product that is hard to stop listening to.
My favorite song on the album has to be the horn-heavy, thumping “Moral of the Story”. Watsky explains his motivation and the concept that success comes down to a very simple equation (“I put in hour after hour, let’s be crystal clear/ I’m gonna get there whether it takes a day or fifty years/ I’ll finger-bang my fears/ I’ll f—ing punch a dragon/ Even with the Himalayas in my way it’s gonna happen/ Cause waiting doesn’t work/ And praying may not come through/ And hoping doesn’t work/ So I will be the one to work”). While this new Watsky album may not be something the prototypical rap fan would blast out of their car, windows down, as they cruise the town, the talent and quality of music is enough to earn a listen from music fans of all backgrounds. For the hip-hop heads out there wondering if it’s possible for someone like George Watsky to be able to go “hard” (famous hip-hop critique point), I will simply let his final verse from “Moral of the Story” paint it…
“And maybe someday you might see me in a glossy photo/ No weirdo has rocked the bells as hard as me since Quasimodo.” Anytime someone can squeeze a Hunchback of Notre Dame reference into the same line as a LL Cool J drop, you have my attention!
“Moral of the Story” music video courtesy of gwatsky on YouTube *Warning! Some explicit lyrics!*