It's not often we think of rappers as a hopeful bunch, a group of dreamers high on the wonders of life. But every so often a person comes along with the right combination of skills and message to turn an entire genre upside down. This is the story of George Watsky.
George Watsky, a San Francisco native, spent his teen years writing, doing poetry slams, and attending San Francisco University High School. He was good at it, winning more often than not and even gaining mention in the SF Gate where he was described as "the Bay Area's reigning teen champion". In 2006 he received his first international recognition when he became the Youth Speaks Grand Slam Poetry Champion. After that it was Brave New Voices International Poetry Slam Champion and Emerson College and even a feature on the HBO series Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry. But if you're waiting for the part of the story when that one big break that sends him over the edge, you might be disappointed. There is no such perfect heroic moment in Watsky's shining trajectory, and frankly that is something of a relief.
The start of his current internet fame was back in the wild west days of YouTube. Scrolling back through the archives of his channel it becomes obvious that six years ago (YouTube itself is only eight years old) it was still just an experiment for the young rapper. His channel is a testament to the experimental nature of his work but also clear evidence of the sheer amount of work he puts into the craft. His early videos feature live performance recorded with whatever was available. As his following grew his work become more polished; in well-shot snippets his writing, performance, and editing all began to support each other. Then in January of 2011, after years of work, performance, awards, schooling, and the rest, something clicked. A video titled "Pale kid raps fast" (now called "Watsky raps fast") went viral, gaining to date over 24 million views. Less than two weeks later he was featured on the Ellen Degeneres Show to show off his skills.
This March his most recent album, Cardboard Castles, was released by Steel Wool Media, a company Watsky co-founded. The same day the album topped the iTunes Hip Hop chart (first in the UK and Canada and then in the U.S.), an astonishing feat for an entirely independent publisher and artist, in large part due to his Twitter and YouTube campaign. But these efforts would fall flat if his work did not speak in a language his audience was hungry for. Instead of showing off he lets us see both his laudable qualities and his failings, "Suspended the same month I won the city science fair. I won most likely to succeed and teachers nightmare." And when Watsky says don't worry we are all in this together, we believe him -- his honesty and everyman demeanor gives voice to our fear and anxieties.