‘Cardboard Castles’ is the third studio album from Slam Poetry king George Watsky who shot into the public eye after appearing on HBO’s ‘Russell Simmons Presents Def Poet’. He shot to internet fame through his breakout viral YouTube video ‘Pale Kid Raps Fast’ His album was released on 12th March 2013 and topped the iTunes Hip-Hop charts in the UK and Canada and the mainstream US chart.
The California born rapper has clearly taken production value and commercial potential into account when producing ‘Cardboard Castles’. He’s collaborated with five other producers including Daniel J. W!shington and Aaron Carmack and ‘Fireworks’ is proof that he’s so much more than a poet.
The quirky, innovative use of rhythms and backbeats merged with firework sound effects illustrate his unique flair as a rapper. His comedic streak proves his intelligence and distinctive lyrical charm “Tell me that I’m not a rapper. Tell Rudolph he can’t pull sleighs”. The simplistic instrumentation allows his rapping to take its rightful place at the forefront of his music. But even when ‘Strong as an Oak’ makes use brass instruments, an acoustic guitar and other instruments rarely used in the rapping world, Watky’s zany, metaphorical lyrics are never overshadowed.
His clever plays on words “`Cause I’m strong as an O-A-K…everything is A-OK.” reflect his passion for music and want to show his individuality as a Hip-Hop artist. The bright, laidback style of ‘Strong as an Oak’ makes Watksy’s work shine with all the charisma, humour and charm of a Gym Glass Heroes track as he tells the truth about what it’s like to be broke. George’s speedy skill is captivating and as catchy as a common cold and his range of influences becomes clear as the track is completed with a jazz section.
‘Moral of the Story’ follows the overriding theme of ‘Cardboard Castles’; building and maintaining your own world despite the hardships life throws at you when perusing your passion. No Hip-Hop album would be complete without a track about the artist’s success and struggles. Watsky’s artistic determination is obvious and this dirty club Hip-Hop style song is dramatic and pounding; “I’m gonna get there if it takes a day or fifty years…even with the Himalyas in my way…”. It proves how fluid his imagination is and how much his music is a heartfelt, honest testimonial.
The contrast between ‘Ugly Faces’ and some of Watsky’s more serious material is astounding and his use of wit is on par with some of the world’s biggest stand-up acts. His flawless blend of sound effects, rhythmic changes and the stand-offish spoken word shows how much he has focused on production. George’s ability to tell a compelling narrative cannot be faked and ‘Skit #1’ is an alternative example of this ability through a comedic conversation between George and an 8-year-old boy about a bully in his class and acts as an interlude.
Watsky’s musical talent as a slam poet, artist, rapper and storyteller is clear throughout ‘Kill a Hipster (Save Your Hood!)’ which features Chinaka Hodge. The narrative utilises several elements of Pop culture including cyberspace and a new branch of Starbucks and invasion of hipsters destroying a neighbourhood.
Kate Nash’s sultry, bitter vocals in ‘Hey, Asshole’ may come as a collaborative surprise, but the blunt, ironic backbone of this track makes its wonderfully commercial and perfect to be released as a single, which it was on 19th February. It’s a real standout song with a string hook from two equally unique artists and makes use of Watky’s mile-a-minute pace as well as ‘All I Need is One’. It’s a Pop-influenced melody and flows perfectly into a snippet of an exchange with the young boy again. And if there was ever something that’s naturally amusing without a social filter it’s children.
‘Tiny Glowing Screens, Pt. 1’ and ‘Tiny Glowing Screens, Part 2’ are lyrically candid “When the sun burns out, we’ll light the world with tiny glowing screens.” and confront the issue of technological advancements. George has made use of his fame to take a stand and make a point about something he feels passionate about; a fear of the future. The 26-year-old has thrown his opinion into the public eye but with his eccentric edge, “I’ve seen a person go to shows and raise a lighter app. But if you’re at my concert don’t ever try that crap.”
Part 1 starts in a very minimalistic fashion with just an acoustic guitar until it dives head-first into an end that mirrors a fuzzy T.V. But Part 2 is so haunting and emotional and conveys that you can’t underestimate the power of a voice and single instrument. It still makes use of tongue-twisting lyrics, a rapid flow and takes the listener on a skimmed narrative journey through the modern world and proves Watky’s diversity of material.
Energetic and innovative, ‘Sloppy Seconds’ reflects George’s wisdom beyond his years and the novelty of an everyman character and his reasonable normal life in the music industry; “Cold pizza. Tie die shirts. Broken hearts.” It also demonstrates his dedication to his craft. His wise-crack lyrics in this track are refreshingly honest and show that he’s really breaking barriers and sobering ‘Dedicated to Christina Li’ paints a picture of George’s High School days. It’s a heartfelt reflection of his regrets from the past and the concept of death, “The lights that burn shortest are the lights that burn brightest”.
‘Skit #2’ is another spoken exchange between George and the young boy and it indicates the completive, unapologetic sincerity that children have, “You might not like the things you used to like”. The down-to-Earth use of narrative humour in ‘The Legend of Hardhead Ned’ featuring Dylan Saunders expresses the power of gang vocals, along with Watky’s raw talent and imagination.
Title track ‘Cardboard Castles’ begins as an acapella, harmonic masterpiece and highlights the importance of persevering with what you love, having no regrets and dreaming big. The steady tempo and optimism of ‘Send in the Sun’ couldn’t be more different to ‘Dent in the Moon’, which begins with another random, entertaining anecdote from the 8-year-old boy “I kicked a ball and my shoe flew off…and somebody kicked the ball and it hit me in the face.” It also features the silky-smooth tones of Rozzi Crane, Rock influences and has all the swagger of a Justin Timberlake track.
George Watsky presents his listeners with a genuine enthusiasm for what he does despite the constraints of his awkard appearance. He really breaks the chains of the rap and Hip-Hop industry in an incredibly intelligent way and has an instinct to spot the extraordinary in the ordinary. ‘Cardboard Castles’ is versatile, playful and undoubtedly inventive.