I was going to start of this piece with an apology of sorts, writing that while I know most hip-hop heads treat poetry as a four-letter word and likely don't even know who Watsky is, I unapologetically love poetry and am inspired by Watsky's music and career. So sorry, I know this isn't the kind of piece that's going to get millions of pageviews or earn me some hip-hop cred, but it's what I'm interested in so it's what I'm writing about.
But somewhere in the middle of typing that paragraph I realized that's exactly the problem. Whether it's poetry or Watsky or Mongolian folk music, in truth there's almost always other people who love the same "weird" things we do, but we're so busy hiding and apologizing for our true interests that we never know we're standing right next to someone who loves the same thing but is hiding too. And that's why being at a live show can be so powerful, because for a time, in a place, you're the majority, surrounded by people united in their love for the same thing. It's only weird until you understand how normal being weird is.
So without hesitation or apology, when I was at Soundset I wanted to make sure I got a chance to talk to Watsky. I had first seen him in the Bay Area performing poetry as a teen, and a decade later it's been fascinating to watch him build a career in music from those poetry foundations, especially at a time when the lines between hip-hop and poetry are openly blurrier than ever (see also, Chance, Kendrick, Mick Jenkins, etc.).
Watsky is in a strange place as a hard-to-label artist, trying to navigate a music industry that so often rejects anyone they can't easily label, but again, it's a strange place that a lot of other artists are in. Artists like Wax, Dumbfoundead, Chance, perhaps most notably Tech N9ne and so many more are changing what it looks and sounds like to be a "rapper," and that kind of trail blazing can be rewarding, but that doesn't make it easy to be openly shut out of resources and opportunities.
But while it can often just straight up suck to have to build everything yourself and knock on doors that never get opened, ultimately the rewards are greater when an artists focuses on the people who do connect with their music and less on the companies that don't. It may sound cliche, but it really is powerful to see fans who connect with you so strongly, and in case you haven't figured out the theme of this piece yet, the strength of that connection comes in large part because just like you, those fans feel like outsiders.
Growing up I was a weird kid, in love with hip-hop while most of my peers were playing Green Day yet the only kid in my middle school with his ear pierced, and so it makes sense that I'm a weird adult. There may be other 33-year-old, heavily tattooed white guys who write about hip-hop for a living, but there aren't many. And ultimately that's why regardless of the specific artist or music, I'll have a place in my heart for anyone who's truly striving to do something different, something that insists on holding true to who they are. Because if we can all start admitting just how outside the mainstream we are, we'll realize just how many people are outside with us.
[Nathan S. is the managing editor of The DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.]