George Virden Watsky (born September 15, 1986), known professionally as Watsky, is an American hip hop artist, author, and poet from San Francisco, California. Watsky performs slam poetry, and was featured on Season 6 of Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry on HBO. His talents began to receive national and international acclaim in 2006 when he was the Youth Speaks Grand Slam Poetry Champion, and was also named Brave New Voices International Poetry Slam Champion.
Watsky broke out as a rapper with his viral video "Pale kid raps fast" in 2011. He went on to record several hip hop albums, including Cardboard Castles in 2013, All You Can Do in 2014, and x Infinity in 2016, and held many live performances with his touring band Créme Fraîche. Watsky is also known for his appearances in Epic Rap Battles of History, and as an author following the publication of How to Ruin Everything in 2016.
Watsky was born in San Francisco, California, to Clare E. (née Miller, daughter of politician Clement Woodnutt Miller) and Paul Norman Watsky, a librarian and a psychotherapist. George has a twin brother, Simon Jay Watsky, who is a helicopter pilot. He has described himself as "half Jewish" (on his father's side). Watsky attended San Francisco University High School and then attended Emerson College in Boston.
Watsky started slam poetry at the age of 15, and has since exploded in popularity to reach a national audience. He was described as the Bay Area's reigning teen champion as the winner of nearly a dozen slams, and was on the team that took fourth place in the national contest in 2005.
Watsky's poetry incorporates political and social themes. In 2006, in the midst of a lively performance to a sold-out crowd, Watsky likened politicians' behavior to a common bar pick-up line, and won the night's top score. He also appeared in Season Six, Episode Two of Def Poetry Jam that year, performing his poem "V for Virgin."
Reviewing a 2008 performance at Brandeis University, Sarah Bayer wrote, "Skinny, quirky George Watsky was next, with the night's most innovative piece. Watsky, a sophomore at Emerson College and a member of the grand prize-winning team from San Francisco at the National Youth Poetry Slam in 2006, adjusted the microphone to different parts of his body, imitated the sound of rewinding tape and recited binary code (a trope that caught the eye of headliner Saul Williams) in an altogether amusing performance." In 2009, he was also profiled in The Boston Globe; the Arts section reviewed his one-man show "Where the Magic Happens" favorably, and called him a "poetry-slam star."
Watsky continues to implement spoken word into his current career as a musician with songs like "Tiny Glowing Screens Pt. 2" and "Cannonball."
2009 – 2010: Watsky and Guilty Pleasures
In 2009, Watsky produced a 15-track hip hop album titled Watsky. The next year, he released the album Guilty Pleasures, which he made available as a free download on his website. Produced by Procrastination (San Francisco musician Tobias Butler), Guilty Pleasures contains mashups between popular songs and those from his first album.
2011: "Pale Kid Raps Fast"
On January 17, 2011, Watsky uploaded a video entitled "Pale kid raps fast" to YouTube, in which he performed a humorous original rap with rapid delivery over the instrumental of "Break Ya Neck" by Busta Rhymes. The video went viral, partly due to support from Reddit and Philip DeFranco (Watsky's music can be heard in the background of DeFranco's news series and SourceFed channel). It accumulated four million views within two days, and eventually exceeded 25 million views despite later being unlisted by Watsky. He performed a slightly modified version of the rap on The Ellen DeGeneres Show one week later. Being able to match the speed of the song's rapping was viewed as an Internet challenge, spawning covers by fellow rappers such as Mac Lethal, and YouTube celebrities such as Hank Green and Bry.
2012: Nothing Like The First Time and tour
On June 10, 2012, Watsky released a free mixtape entitled Nothing Like The First Time. The mixtape coincided with his first official tour of the same name beginning in July, featuring his touring band Créme Fraîche, with support from Dumbfoundead. It included dates in Chicago, New York City, Boston, Northampton, Jacksonville, Atlanta, and London.
Watsky released Live! At the Troubadour, a fully mixed concert CD of his Los Angeles show from the Nothing Like The First Time tour, in August 2012. He also started a production company with Brad Simpson called Steel Wool Media.
2013: Steel Wool Media, Cardboard Castles and tour
In January 2013, Watsky announced he would be releasing a new album entitled Cardboard Castles on March 12, 2013. On the same date, he announced tour dates for the Cardboard Castles tour, which included dates in many major cities in the U.S. and Canada such as Austin, New Orleans, Gainesville, Orlando, D.C., Philadelphia, Northampton, Boston, Denver, Los Angeles, Toronto, Vancouver and New York City. Tour dates for Europe (including the UK, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands) were released shortly after. The first single from the album, "Strong As An Oak" was released through Steel Wool Media on January 22, 2013. The second single from the album, "Moral of the Story" was released on February 5, 2013. The third single, "Hey, Asshole" was released on February 19, 2013, and features English singer Kate Nash.
The album was released on March 12, 2013, through Welk Music Group, topping the iTunes Hip Hop Charts in the US, Canada, and the United Kingdom due in part to a Twitter campaign. He then went on his follow-up to the Nothing Like The First Time tour called "Sloppy Seconds."
Watsky made a web-series with YouTube channel LOUD titled Watsky's Making an Album. It consisted of 9 main episodes and many behind the scenes and live videos from the Nothing Like The First Time tour. The web series was restarted on March 12, 2013, with the first episode of Season 2 (entitled Watsky's Releasing An Album), coinciding with the release of his second album, Cardboard Castles.
In November 2013 the Vans Warped Tour was briefly shut down after Watsky made a stage jump from the 35 ft high rigging during the band's performance in London. During the stage jump the audience parted. Watsky and also two members of the audience were injured. Watsky apologized after the event via Facebook. He wrote: 'I have no excuse for my actions, and the only way I can explain my mindset is that it was a huge overreach in the heat of the moment. No, I was not drunk or on drugs.'
2014: All You Can Do
On January 2, 2014, Watsky tweeted that he was beginning work on his third studio album, then tweeted a link to a picture of a microphone with the caption "The Booth #guardianangel" less than a minute later. This was the first sign of new music from Watsky since March 2013, when he released his second album, Cardboard Castles.
On May 21, 2014, during one of his Watsky Wednesday vlogs, he announced that the title of his new album would be All You Can Do, as well as explaining that he wanted to keep his family ties in the album (announcing that his father would be on the cover and that he would like his mother to be on an alternate cover) and that the album would be released in August. He had tweeted earlier in the month that the first single from All You Can Do would be released on June 10, 2014.
The album was made available for preorder on June 10, 2014, on iTunes (with a download of the first single," Whoa Whoa Whoa"); a physical copy and limited edition double-vinyl were made available for pre-order on his website. It included collaborations with Anderson .Paak, Dia Frampton and Stephen Stills among others, and is Watsky's highest charting album to date, reaching number 33 on the Billboard 200. The All You Can Do Tour spanned across North America, Europe, and Australia, consisting of over 60 headlining shows. His live band Créme Fraîche consists of Max Miller-Loran (keys/trumpet), Kush Mody (keys, bass) Pat Dimitri (guitar), Chukwudi Hodge (drums) and others.
In December 2014, Watsky's YouTube channel was listed on New Media Rockstars Top 100 Channels, ranked at #51.
2015: Meaner Than The Average Tour
On May 30, 2015, Watsky announced through social media that he would be releasing All You Can Do: Live From The Regency Ballroom, the live album that he recorded during the All You Can Do tour, on June 2 on BitTorrent, Bandcamp, Spotify, iTunes & Soundcloud. He also announced that he would be embarking on a monthlong club tour, called the Meaner Than The Average tour, with Créme Fraîche, A-1, and Mikos Da Gawd in late July and August. The focus of the tour would be to hit cities that he didn't get to on the All You Can Do tour. He also said that many of the shows would be in various Canadian cities that he's never performed in.
In January 2016, he announced through various YouTube videos that he would release an album due sometime in the summer.
2016: x Infinity, The Hamilton Mixtape
On July 8, 2016, Watsky announced a new album titled x Infinity, as well as an upcoming tour (in America and Europe) on Twitter and Facebook. The album's lead producer is long-time collaborator Kush Mody, while Def Jam Recordings co-founder Russell Simmons was an executive producer. It was released on August 19, 2016, and included Josh Dun, Julia Nunes, and Chaos Chaos as collaborators. The album's bonus track "Exquisite Corpse", referencing the poetry game, features seven guest verses rapped by Dumbfoundead, Grieves, Adam Vida, Wax, Rafael Casal, Daveed Diggs, and Chinaka Hodge. Watsky embarked on his x Infinity tour on September 2, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona, and was slated to finish in Los Angeles at the end of November, but he later added stops in Anchorage, Alaska on December 1, and his final show in Honolulu, Hawaii on December 10, 2016. The album reached 58th on the US Billboard 200.
In December 2016, Watsky contributed a song to The Hamilton Mixtape, a project of Lin-Manuel Miranda, for whom Watsky previously performed in 2015 at a #Ham4Ham event. On the mixtape, he performed "An Open Letter" with the artist Shockwave. This was an adapted form of a rap cut from the song "The Adams Administration" in the original show, in which Hamilton refutes insults and rumors spread about him from President John Adams.
In May 2013, Watsky appeared in season 4 of Arrested Development as Chris Kazmierczak, the "semi-original series" released on Netflix.
Watsky has documented the process it takes to create albums in a couple TV series. Watsky has also appeared in several Epic Rap Battles of History videos, rapping as and portraying one of the battling characters. To date he has played William Shakespeare, the Fourth Doctor (of Doctor Who), and Edgar Allan Poe.
Watsky is set to appear as Tanner in the film Blindspotting, which is in post-production and will be released in 2018.
In June 2016, Watsky published a collection of his essays in a book entitled How to Ruin Everything. It entered the top ten in The New York Times Best Seller list, and received public praise from Lin-Manuel Miranda, John Green, Russell Simmons, Hasan Minhaj, Jeff Chang, Adam Mansbach, Rhys Darby, Myq Kaplan, and Chinaka Hodge.
- Invisible Inc (2007)
- Watsky (2009)
- Cardboard Castles (2013)
- All You Can Do (2014)
- x Infinity (2016)