The 28-year-old George Watsky made a name for himself with his YouTube-hit «Pale Kid Raps Fast» above and beyond his hometown San Francisco. As a part of his «All You Can Do» world-tour, the rap-poet visited Switzerland two times. Tink.ch met the currently homeless Watsky at Zurich’s «Exil», and talked with him about his uncertain future, Shakespeare, Religion and the Epic Rap Battles of History.
Tink.ch: You’ve already been to Switzerland one year ago to perform your previous album, «Cardboard Castles». What has changed since your last visit?
It is getting a little bit difficult with all the logistics and travels through Europe and all that. But it’s good, the shows have been successful. I’ve been performing for longer now, so it’s more like work than it was when we started. It’s still exciting to come back. Last year, the venue was a bit smaller. But it always feels when you do something for the very first time, it has that certain thrill to it. It still has that, but I think it’s more cool now because we’re more comfortable than nervous, but that feeling of doing something for the first time is wearing off a little bit.
So the common ground of «All You Can Do» and your earlier albums is that most of your songs are critical of society. However, I once read that you do not criticize society, it’s you talking to yourself being a part of society. Are most of your songs based on self-reflection?
Yeah, I try to do it like that. I don’t think you can separate yourself from social issues, because the main perspective that I have is the lens I see through the world. For instance, I used to write a lot of poems about global warming and environmentalism, but at the same time, I still drove a car and got on airplanes and contributed to the same. I was one drop in the ocean of why the climate is changing. It’s happening and it’s bad, but I am a part of it. I’m still a member of the contributing force. When you’re just writing about a social problem and you don’t take any responsibility for your own part in it, you end up sounding really preachy.
Next to your rap-recordings and poems, you’ve been part of many side-projects, including the Epic Rap Battles of History YouTube-series. How was work with NicePeter and EpicLloyd?
It was great. They gave me a lot of creative freedom. I don’t know how it is with all the guests they have, but I heard they write the lyrics for most of the guests. They let me write my own lyrics, which is important for me, because I take a lot of pride in writing my stuff. So yeah, it was cool; I got to play these cool characters from literature and tried to rap in their voices, which was really fun.
You’re obviously very passionate about poetry. In the Epic Rap Battles of History you rap exactly as Poe and Shakespeare wrote their poems. Was that hard?
It wasn’t that difficult, honestly. It’s like having constraints. Like Poe, he has very specific, famous patterns with «The Raven» that are pretty easy to rap. It wasn’t that bad of a challenge for me.
Did you have the same constraints when writing your first poems?
It was different. Writing a piece of spoken word poetry takes me a lot longer. I don’t write many of them cause it usually takes a long period of just considering the issue I’m writing about, and then getting a rough draft, holding in, trying to get it perfect. I don’t do that as often anymore as I used to, but the writing process between writing a piece of spoken word poetry and doing something that’s like a side-project for an Epic Rap Battle is different. I don’t spend as much time on that cause it’s more rehearsal than actual writing.
But do you have another strategy in writing for slam poetry and rap, or is it practically the same?
No, it’s different. I rap in a more linear way from top-to-bottom, because I want to flow really smoothly. With spoken word poetry, it’s really concept based. I can take ideas and move them around. It’s more like an essay, and if I have an idea near the end of the writing process which could be a really good opening line, I whip it all the way back to the top and I’m moving things around constantly. And in rap it’s really going from point A to point B to point C, so that I don’t lose the rhythm of it.
Not only your lyrics are very thoughtful, but also the stuff you write on Facebook. You wrote something in the context of you moving out of your house in Los Angeles: «The thing I used to fear the most is now what I’m most excited for: uncertainty.» Is it still exciting?
It is exciting, yeah. I mean I’m on the road right now, I don’t have a house to go back to in Los Angeles, and everything is in a storage-room right now. I lived in that place for three years, and before that I had another place for two years and it’s the first time in my life where I really just have no real plan for where I am afterwards, but that is exciting, definitely. I could live in a foreign country months from now. I’m not sure.
You seem to like uncertain things: Before your new album came out on iTunes, you let it stream for free on Rap Genius. Do you think this is the future? Or what is your stance on the music industry today?
Yeah, I think finding new creative ways to release stuff is good. Clearly, the old model of music has been dead for a long time, and physicals are going to become even more obsolete now. YouTube is a big thing for me; I release a lot of music videos because that’s the biggest Social Media platform that I have. I think that’s a good strategy, but different strategies work for everybody. I think people still wanna pay for music because they are going to invest in an artist they really wanna support, and I’m finding that people will pay even though they don’t have to, to see me succeed. But yeah, I think it’s really important to get creative.
You describe yourself as an atheist and half-Jewish. Is religion all that important to you? I noticed that you rarely touch the topic of religion and the church in your songs, even though they make quite the target.
I talk about it sometimes. I have a poem called «drunk text-message to God», which is about mortality. I don’t often come out explicitly and say there is no God. I actually don’t know if I consider myself an atheist, I’m somewhere between Agnostic and Atheist. I’m pretty sure there’s no God, but I can’t tell for sure. I also don’t like to be in business on telling other people how they live their life is wrong. I want to be clear in what I believe and I won’t deny it, but I know that I have fans who come from different walks of life. It’s a fine line between being aggressive towards your audience and being honest with them, so I have talked about it. I find ways to deal with that. For instance, I’m also vegetarian , I talk about it in some of my songs, and even though that’s something I am very passionate about, I’m not getting up on stage and start telling people how they shouldn’t eat meat. I don’t think that’s the best way to start change people. Leading with an example is better than just hammering people over the head with your opinion.