George Watsky is too fast for you. Imitating his six-words-a-second flow is a fool’s game, that’s obvious, but his lyrical artistry itself might fly a little quicker than you’re used to.
He’s the son of a psychotherapist (with two PhD’s) and a librarian, so words engulfed young Watsky, instilling subtle cues that language and reading were cool, “even though they lead to more wedgies in school,” he quips. Maybe it was pedigree, but he describes his spoken word onslaughts as therapeutic, opting to face some honest truths in life—like anxiety in the bedroom or his subtle lisp—rather than spin more conventional rap platitudes.
That honesty has won him fans by the fistful, including one of the fastest rises in subscribers for a YouTube creator we’ve seen yet, leaping from around 2,000 just three months ago, to nearly 90,000 today. Sure, like most rising stars, there were some influential helpers along the way, like Phil DeFranco, who helped shine light on the video that would be Watsky’s breakout: “Pale kid raps fast” which now has nearly 9 million views. There was also Ellen, who even before his YouTube break out, had him on her show showing off his fast rapping skills.
It’s no wonder now that the 23 year-old has become a favorite on YouTube, the place his mind-numbing intellectual hyponotics were made for. HBO may have cancelled the underrated Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry, which had Watsky was a guest back in 2006. But that was before a global network like YouTube could transform slightly offbeat talents into independent stars who’s fate of cancellation rests in the hands they should be in—their own.
We caught up with Watsky to find out how the relative newcomer to YouTube has handled his newfound fans. One recent tweet from Watsky: “Wow. There are a lot of you. Thanks!”
Tubefilter: You’ve been building quite a track record from on the spoken-word scene, from Def Jam to Ellen. What drew you to making videos for YouTube?
George Watsky: YouTube is an unparalleled opportunity to get material to a lot of people all over the world. I’m not interested in writing in obscurity for the rest of my life. As technology changes and opens new platforms I think it’s important for an artist who wants to reach a wide audience to embrace the medium of their time. In Shakespeare’s lifetime that was theater. In Dickens’ it was probably the novel. At the turn of the century it was film. I believe the medium of our era is becoming the web video, and more and more, people are going to be turning that way for their entertainment.
Tubefilter: How has that changed your trajectory? Are more people discovering you through YouTube now?
Watsky: ‘Pale kid raps fast’ going viral was the catalyst that made everything else happen. It jumped my subscriber base from around 2,000 3 months ago to where it is now– approaching 90,000. So now everything I put out has a lot more eyes on it, my facebook page has boomed, and I’m getting meetings I otherwise never would have. Hopefully if I can continue to churn out quality material I’ll be able to keep building that success. I may not replicate the viral magic of that first big video, but I don’t think I have to in order to keep growing a fan base.
Tubefilter: How does Phil DeFranco fit into things, did he help shine light on your channel?
Watsky: Phil is one of the people who gave ‘Pale kid raps fast’ its initial push that helped it go really viral. He also posted a very nice interview with me yesterday that Jenni Powell orchestrated, so that’s given me another boost. There are several established YouTubers who have been very supportive. Hank Green of the Vlogbrothers was really great in pushing the video and doing a free channel design for me. I’ve been talking about collaborating with Nice Peter, so keep your ears out for that as well. Reddit needs to be thanked as well, as they were a big contributer. And Ellen Degeneres, who’s had me on her show twice already, and has been so personally supportive that it’s almost confusing to me. I’ve had a lot of really awesome, unexpected help.
Tubefilter: You’ve said that you’re pursuing writing, has performing also become part of the plan now?
Watsky: My ultimate plan has been the same for almost 10 years. I want to be a writer and a performer across different media. First and foremost I am a lyricist– I write poetry and songs, but I definitely also consider myself a performer, and I want to act in more traditional roles as well. I was a double major in acting and screenwriting/playwriting in college, and my long-term career plans include writing for film, television and theater. I want to have a long career in the arts, and I think the best way to make sure that happens is to be good at a few different things. It also keeps things interesting for me. Right now I’m going full throttle on hip hop though. That’s my #1 focus.
Tubefilter: Do you consider yourself a rapper or a poet, or both?
Watsky: I am both, but I also don’t really see them as different things. I write lyrics, and sometimes they’re in 4/4 time with end rhymes and sometimes they’re not. Sometimes they have choruses, sometimes they’re more conversational and have themes and messages. Sometimes my rhymes are playful and establish who I am more than any one premise. All rappers are poets, although not all poets are rappers, because rap is a specific form of poetry with the added element of music.
Tubefilter: Have you signed with a label to release your work, or are you still independent?
Watsky: I’m still indie, although I’ve been weighing some different partnerships and have had a lot of label interest.
Tubefilter: Race is something that comes up a lot in YouTube comments, how have you approached race, especially as a caucasian performer in hip hop?
Watsky: I have some songs that directly discuss race and privilege. In general I just try and stay honest about who I am and I think that dulls some of the general criticism that white people doing hip hop are acting fake. I’m the same person in a hip hop song that I am in conversation, and I never deny the fact that I had a great upbringing and a lot of opportunities growing up. If people don’t like what I’m doing that’s their right, but all I’m focused on is being me and doing what I love.
For more, check out Phil DeFranco’s SourceFed interview profile (below) on Watsky, which is produced by the multi-talented (and Tubefilter writer) Jenni Powell: