Watsky’s ‘All You Can Do’ departs from older work with vintage hip-hop sound

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San Francisco native George Watsky, known simply as “Watsky,” brings his signature fast rapping and sharp wordplay to a jazz and classic rock-infused album titled All You Can Do, released last week. Dedicated to his parents, the album sports throwback photos as the cover art and special sound bites for various tracks. Its muted hip-hop feel matches Watsky’s profound lyricism in this album — his most mature work yet.

Title track “All You Can Do” opens with smooth strings, horns and an old-school beat as Watsky raps about making the best effort a person can. He throws in a morbidly playful verse on how he “tried to join the 27 Club, they kicked me out,” which expresses his deep guilt over the Warped Tour London accident of 2013: “recklessness, no common senses / I kamikaze, there’s consequences.” His self-condemnation spins “All You Can Do” into a work that reconciles his past errors in order to move forward. Watsky’s ingenious rhymes and genuine writing come together when he spits “the rule of thumb is ‘all publicity is your advantage’ / but human lives are not collateral damage” on “Ink Don’t Bleed.”

While sophisticated, the album doesn’t hit as hard as older works. Cardboard Castles (2013) was a staple of fun and fast tempos — closer to traditional hip hop than “All You Can Do.”

Watsky’s growing professionalism also comes with a trade-off: objectification. “Whoa Whoa Whoa” boasts Watsky’s fastest delivery, but is hardly of substance: “I play Miley’s ribcage with my dick like it’s a xylie-phone.” Following with “Yes, that was highly fucked up, but my skills are highly honed” hardly excuses it. “The One” rhymes: “it seems like everybody’s pairing off / I’m staring at the pairs like they were tits on Lara Croft.” It’s questionable why Watsky, who already has a knack for meaningful rap, needs these senseless lines at all.

Aside from those missteps, Watsky manages to create some standout tracks. “Tears to Diamonds” chronicles both the painful dependencies and rewarding options of mental health medication while “Let’s Get High and Watch Planet Earth” surprises with a flashback to the heart of ‘70s psychedelia with its hypnotizing chorus and seductive tambourine.

The most impressive of all is the concluding track. At more than six minutes, “Cannonball” is delivered in a poignant spoken-word style, reflecting on a single moment when he’s laying in Golden Gate Park with a special someone, reeling in euphoria. Beautiful, Sgt. Pepper-like horns, rolling drums and smashing symbols give this track a glorious, almost royal audio. Featuring Stephen Stills — prominent in ‘70s rock ‘n’ roll and likely someone Watsky’s parents listened to — it’s the perfect topper to this album’s refreshing, vintage revival. Watsky recites “I’m so far from perfect / So far it’s been worth it” on “Cannonball.” Likewise, this is a work fans should find worth it to listen to.

Contact Jennifer Wong at [email protected].