Cardboard Castles is a gem.
Rapper George Watsky masterfully blends the wisdom from his spoken word poetry with a collection of colorful instrumentals, balancing his roles as poet and rapper and adding a unique brand of comedy to each track. The self-proclaimed “pale kid that raps fast” has often been pegged as more of a novelty than a serious musician, often referred to as a white nerdy, hipster rapper, but Cardboard Castles will turn some heads. The phenomenal lyricism of this artist is too apparent to ignore.
The first single off of Cardboard Castles, “Strong as an Oak,” is superb. With a catchy, sing-along hook and what could be the most uplifting melody of the year, Watsky raps about being broke as hell. Being an internet-famous slam poet and rapper doesn’t always pay the bills, but doing what he loves means more to him than the financial success that Top 40 rappers see. “I’m sick of the image I’m living my life and I’m doing it my way / I’d rather be making the choices I’m proud of than chasing a mountain of money,” he raps, telling us all that money shouldn’t be the focus of our pursuits.
I’ve listened to the album over and over again and cannot seem to manage to get through “Tiny Glowing Screens Part 2” without getting chills. More of a spoken word poem than a hip-hop track, Watsky comes in on a quiet, minimalist piano track saying, “There’s 7 billion 46 million people on the planet / And most of us have the audacity to think we matter.” Whoa, wait a minute. What happened to hip-hop being the laidback and carefree genre of music? Watsky is breaking barriers and not looking back to apologize. With clever one-liners like, “I don’t want a real girl, I want to trace her from a catalogue” and “A blunt wrap filled with compliments and I’m burnin it,” he leaves you on the edge of your seat anticipating his next words throughout the entire track.
Every track on the album stands alone as a work of art. On “Sloppy Seconds,” Watsky insists that the best things in life are memories of ugly tie-dye and cold pizza and that people who have suffered a broken heart are living their lives to the fullest. On “Dedicated to Christina Li,” Watsky relives an adolescent relationship with Christina Li when he was a kid, explaining that he suspected that she liked him, but she wasn’t cool enough, so he shrugged her off. After getting through school, he didn’t think much about her until he heard she had died due to a pre-existing heart condition. The last two lines sum up this heartbreaking song, as Watsky raps, “But all I know is that until my body’s dust / I will try to think of her as much as Crissie thought of us.”
If you aren’t listening to Cardboard Castles right now, you’re missing out.