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George Watsky raps his way to Paradise

by Erica Mixon / Beacon Staff • February 7, 2013

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George Watsky will be performing at the Paradise Rock Club on April 1.
Courtesy of Gaby Esensten
George Watsky will be performing at the Paradise Rock Club on April 1.
Courtesy of Gaby Esensten

Like many other Emerson students, 2010 alum George Watsky has a flair for the dramatic. Just type in “pale kid raps fast” into the YouTube search bar and you’ll see him performing directly in front of the camera, often pausing to acknowledge a cat slinking across  the background. 

On camera, he’s down to earth and casual; he even burps mid-rap, then struggles to regain his composure. But Watsky somehow has a charm about him that he has achieved through embracing his own quirkiness. He speaks with a slight lisp, prides himself on being a virgin throughout his high school years, and is a self-described hybrid of “Mos Def meets Woody Allen.” 

In other words, he experiments with a blend of spoken-word poetry and rap, blending the silly and serious. The world seems to embrace his quirkiness, too. Two years after the “pale kid raps fast” video was uploaded, it has reached over 23 million views. 

“That [video] was an explosion, and it took me by surprise,” 26-year-old Watsky said. 

Not all of his success was surprising, however. 

“I was still working and just chipping away for about six years or something, just making a little bit of progress at a time and churning out material,” he said. “For two years, junior year and senior year, I pretty much only took Monday and Wednesday classes. I had really, really long days and I’d just do these epic two-day weekdays.”

On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, Watsky said he performed his slam poetry for college campuses across the country, returning each Sunday just in time for classes. 

“It wasn’t stressful,” Watsky said. “The great thing about the classes that I took at Emerson is that they were mostly acting classes, and a lot of them were studio classes that didn’t have homework.”

Watsky was a performing arts major with a concentration in acting; a decision that later ended up influencing his work. 

“I think the acting stuff has really helped my spoken word,” Watsky said. “It’s helped me to be in the moment, to try and experience every poem like I’m doing it for the first time, even though I’ve done it, like, 400 times before. I’m really grateful for my acting training.”

Watsky said he also began experimenting with playwriting at Emerson and became heavily involved in NewFest, a playwriting festival that would eventually include his original work.He started as a crew member during his freshman year, where he met artistic director Joe Antoun, who took a special interest in his work. 

“He’s really well balanced in that he’s got an artistic confidence, like he knows the kind of work he wants to do and he knows what he’s good at,” Antoun said of Watsky. “He’s also incredibly open and respectful of the craft, he’s not arrogant.” 

That attitude paid off. “[Watsky] submitted two of his plays to NewFest, and his junior year his play was selected,” Antoun said. Watsky didn’t stop there—he even received the Rod Parker Playwright Award in 2009 for his play Harold Fall or King Will

Antoun’s fellow faculty member Andrew Clarke agreed that Watsky had positive attitude. “

“Watsky took my six-week summer playwriting course,” said Clarke. “I looked forward to meeting with him every week … He was such a joy to collaborate with. He knows his work really well, so you could debate with him without it getting defensive or angry.”

Watsky will be playing at Paradise Rock Club on April 1.

 “I’m really excited about this show in particular because it’s during the school year and it’s all ages.” Watsky said. 

For Watsky, a concert is a way to connect to the audience, to give them an experience to enjoy together.

“There’s something about the community of being there in a room of people and everybody going through the same ups and downs together that makes [live performing] special, said Watsky. “The YouTube videos are a flier for people to come to the live shows.”

With over 66 million views on his YouTube channel, Watsky is making a name for himself in the rap and hip-hop industry. 

“I feel like it’s very reflective of today, but it also gives an interesting edge on rap that’s a little more structured. He has his own sound,” said Hayley Rosenthal, a junior writing, literature, and publishing major who viewed a few of his videos.

“I love YouTube and everything it’s done to put my work out there— but it’ll never be a substitute for the real experience.” Watsky said.