San Francisco music fans were given a special treat for two nights last November. After filling their bellies over the Thanksgiving holiday, crowds filled up the Golden Gate City’s iconic Regency Ballroom to witness hometown artist George Watsky’s “All You Can Do” Tour.
The 11/28 and 11/29 show dates were the only time the former Def Poetry Jam participant performed back-to-back nights in the same location. To ensure the show would be a standout moment from his North American trek, Watsky shared the stage with Anderson .Paak, Kush Mody, A-1, Julia Mattison, and his band Créme Fraiche.
Watsky wanted his non-San Fran supporters to experience the invigorating energy of the event, so the 28-year-old rapper/poet recorded the Bay Area concert for his latest live album All You Can Do: Live! From the Regency. He provided even more incentives to his loyal fan base by offering the project as a BitTorrent Bundle featuring exclusive perks such as photographs, a tour poster, and a tour merchandise coupon.
The artist that found himself on Ellen after his 2010 viral video “Watsky Raps Fast” is hitting the road again. Watsky’s Meaner Than Your Average Tour lands in New York City on June 17 and wraps up on August 29 in Santa Ana, California.
Before Watsky criss-crosses the continent this summer, AllHipHop spoke with the 2006 Brave New Voices National Poetry Slam winner about his most recent release, the price of fame, white rappers using the n-word, and more.
You dropped your latest project as a BitTorrent bundle.
Yeah, it seems like people like it. I think the folks appreciate that I put a quality project out, and I wanted to do it for free. It’s a concert album, but it’s one we worked on for a long time getting the mix right. I’ve bought live albums from my favorite bands before, and sometimes it doesn’t really replicate what I hear on the CD. This is not the same instrumentation. We wanted to make sure that the album sounded tight and the mix was good.
How was it recording the album in front of your hometown?
Playing for San Francisco is always the meaningful stop on every tour I do, because that’s my hometown. Even though I’ve been living in L.A. for five years, I think of myself as a San Franciscan. So it’s important for me to make that show special.
It was the only time we did back-to-back nights on the tour. The Friday-Saturday right after Thanksgiving. I just tried to pull out all the stops, bring out as many guests as I could. I would rather spend the budget I got to make money in San Francisco on bringing out other guests to make the night special, than trying to make as much money as possible. San Francisco has got emotion packed in it for me.
What was the transition like going from being a slam poet to being a musical recording artist?
It turns of artistically, it was never a transition, because I was always doing rap and poetry at the same time. It was just a matter of convincing people that I could do it. Anytime, career wise, you get established doing one thing, I think people start to pigeonhole you in their mind as that thing. Especially, if it’s working for you.
Poetry was working for me. I was making money. Not a ton of people were watching my videos, but I did have a following. I just kept trying to say to folks, “I'm going to do music. This is happening. This is what I’m working on.”
I got a lot of “smiles and nods.” People patted me on the head like, “Alright, sure man. Good luck with that.” I just had to grind it out. It took a long time. I put out a lot of material. Eventually, I got stuff to hit. I found my niche. I found my audience of people that related to my stuff. It took a while to find them, because it’s not easily digestible. It’s not that Top 40 mold.
You mentioned artists being pigeonholed. At any point did you feel like the tag of being the “fast rapping kid” was ever a hindrance?
Yeah, I think it did both things. Anytime something happens in my career - good or bad - I look at it as an opportunity to be able to take wind from it. Even if at the time it might feel like it set me back. I mean that sincerely. That was a blessing and a curse. I got tons of exposure, but it was exposure in one particular avenue. At the same time, it gave me the opportunity to show people I had multiple dimensions.
I was lucky when that particular video hit that I had a lot of material. So people that did any back research, who were really curious and liked my sh*t, they went back and saw that I had all this spoken word material. They could say, “I stumbled on this video, but I see he’s got material with substance to it. He really put in work as a live performer.”
My goal for the last three years since that video happened was to put my head down and put in work in making material that I’m proud of, and let the people who like it, like it. I’m not worried about how people see me. My career is working for me. I have fans that like my sh*t, and I’m just going to try to make good material and have a good time.
Were the lyrics to your song “Ink Don’t Bleed" from actual experiences of people that you knew?
Yes. All those examples are about specific people that I knew. I’m not going to mention who they are. I lived in L.A. for five years. I see so much fakeness out here. I see so many people whose only goal is to be famous and rich, the pathway to it doesn’t matter. They don’t have a vision for their career.
I’ve gone into sessions with people who wanted to work with me as a producer. They sat down and their basic warm-up routine everyday was to listen to the Top 40 charts to try and figure out what they’re going to plagiarize from what other people are listening to.
There are artists who get all the attention for tracks that are literally just having their names posted on the front of the CD, not even necessarily doing the singing on that record. If they are, it’s so auto-tuned out of being recognizable who knows what that person actually contributed to it.
A lot of the most talented creative people behind the scenes don’t get any credit, because they’re just pulling the strings as invisible people. That’s something I wanted to address, because I feel like there’s a different path.
There’s always that carrot hanging there for any artist. A lot of people make the decision that they’ll do whatever it takes to get fame and wealth. What keeps you from crossing that line?
I got to acknowledge I grew up not needing anything. I didn’t grow up rich, but I never grew up hungry. I never grew up not having a roof over my head or my parents worrying about rent. That really affected me.
I’m not hating on people that want to get rich and make their dreams happen. That’s a big part of rap music. It’s compelling to see people who started out with nothing make their dreams happen. But all I can say is being from a middle class family and not needing money, I had the privilege of not worrying about where my next meal was going to come from. I didn’t have to dedicate my life to making more money. That’s part of it.
I had parents that never inspired me to be greedy. They never bought more than what we needed for the house. I drove crappy twenty-year-old cars my whole life, and that was fine. We had the basic necessities taken care of, so I knew I could live a lifestyle without wanting more than you need. I also knew I could be happy doing that. I learned I could live a happy life without having a mansion and a fancy car.
How did you get involved in the Epic Rap Battles Of History series?
They contacted me after the fast rap video. I got asked to do a Shakespeare character. Even though I made the decision to try not to repeat the viral success of the first video and put out real content, I accepted it because it gave me a chance to play a character who was known for poetry.
I had the opportunity to write in his voice which was really fun. I had a blast with that. I got to do Shakespeare and Edgar Allan Poe. Plus, it’s this cool opportunity for young kids to associate me with iconic poetry. Getting the chance to write in the style of those poets was really fun.
There have been Caucasian rappers that have embraced the idea of using the n-word. What are your thoughts about that?
When I hear V-Nasty do it, I f*cking cringe. It strikes me in a really uncomfortable place. I’ve heard other rappers co-sign her for doing it, because they say, “She grew up in the hood. That’s where she came from, and she’s just speaking her mind.”
From my perspective, it’s f*cked up, and I hate when people do it. I also don’t know [V-Nasty] personally or her life experiences. I just think as a rule you shouldn’t do it. You’re going to offend so many people.
In some ways, it’s a similar argument to making jokes about race. When you’re doing it - even if you think you’re justified - there’s a huge section of people that have trauma, and you’re basically poking them with a stick. Even if you feel you have the credibility to do it, why do you have to poke people with a stick? There are tons of other words you can use.
For me, it’s not a question of whether you’re allowed to do it. Yeah you can do back flips because you feel justified because you have credibility, but just as a decent human being you realize you’re pissing off, offending, and hurting so many people. Why bother? Use one of the other thousands of words in the English language to get your point across.
You’re about to head back on tour. Could another Watsky live album happen in the future?
No, I just put this one out. I put one out two years ago for Live! From The Troubadour. I wanted people to see how I grew as a performer and how much better my band has gotten. Not that they didn’t start off great, but just to see our progress over the last couple of years on the road.
I have a feeling if I do put out another live record, it won’t be for another two years from now - until we’ve made another leap forward. The next project I put out will be a real studio album. Probably in 2016.
Stream All You Can Do: Live! From the Regency and download the BitTorrent Bundle below.
[bandcamp width="400" height="472" album="528885002" size="large" bgcol="ffffff" linkcol="0687f5" artwork="small"]<iframe width="600" height="400" src="//bundles.bittorrent.com/embed/bundles/ef7cf177298faf7800dfb5f4301189525ee80c6bcb839a330398b2c4ffd2a30c" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""></iframe>