Watsky is coming back to Bozeman. The 29-year-old rapper, poet, essayist and general jack-of-all-written-trades performed at MSU several years ago when he was touring as a slam poet, but the concert on Saturday, April 30 will mark his first show in the state since beginning his career as a rapper.
Born as George Virden Watsky in 1986, Watsky first gained nationwide acclaim for his impressive slam poetry. After winning numerous competitions in the Bay Area as a teenager, he was asked to perform on the show “Def Poetry Jam” in 2006, where he performed a piece titled “V is for Virgin,” his humorous, inventive take on virgin pride.
Since 2009, Watsky has transitioned to a musical career, carrying his skill for spoken poetry into a new arena. His first two releases, a self-titled album in 2009 and 2010’s “Guilty Pleasures,” were well received but failed to attract widespread attention. He became well known in 2011 when a video of him rhyming to a Busta Rhymes beat while petting his cat went viral. “I could have made more money, for a while, just continuing to tour for spoken word,” Watsky said. “I wanted to change things up though,” he added, “I only have so many years on this planet.”
A refusal to be pigeonholed has characterized Watsky’s career from the beginning. Just as he was starting to take flight — his last album, 2014’s “All You Can Do,” sold more than 10,000 copies its first week, and his “Ninjas in Paris” video has racked up more than 5 million views — he pushed pause to pursue other interests.
While Saturday’s show — with local guests Hemingway and Tucash — will be a concert, Watsky is currently traveling to promote an essay collection releasing later this summer. “How to Ruin Everything” is his second foray into publishing writing, but still feels like new ground to the artist. He released a book of poetry in 2006. “When I write something, it’s meant to be performed or listened to. This is my first time breaking into the page,” he said. “I’d like to continue writing … I’d love to see how this plays out and see if writing for the page is something I can make a more consistent part of my life.”
The essays cover a wide variety of subjects, detailing everything from his experience growing up with epilepsy to dealing with a friend’s suicide to his relationship with his father, told through the lens of baseball. One of the more humorous essays chronicles his experience on a flight from Anchorage, Alaska, to Atlanta: “I watched two people join the Mile High Club,” he laughed. “The guy sitting next to me and the woman in front of him disappeared together for about 15 minutes, then came back, and then she started up some PDA with the guy next to her, and the first guy was sitting there getting jealous,” he laughed again. “And I was just watching this unfold, trying not to crack up.”
Like any artist that defies expectations, Watsky has heard from his share of fans who were disappointed with his latest career move. “People don’t always know exactly what they want, and even if you give them the same thing they liked before, it’s never as impactful as the first time,” he said. “You become a hack.”
To keep his creative output fresh, Watsky plans to continue varying his work. He’s produced a mockumentary about making an album and says he’d love to return to screenwriting in the future. He’s currently putting the finishing touches on a new, as-yet-unannounced album even as he’s touring to promote the essay collection.
“When I get ideas that excite me, I’m not gonna worry about what people think about it … in the past, I’ve tried to have that mentality but I’ve been hung up on what certain people thought about it — the perceived reaction.”
By leaving that behind, Watsky has broken new ground in his career and set the stage for more to come. “What I’ve ended up with is an album that’s more interesting, takes more risks than others,” he said. “It’s more me than anything I’ve done before.”
Watsky will perform with local acts Hemingway and Tucash at Faultline North at 8 p.m. on Saturday, April 30. Tickets are $10 for students and $20 for general admission.