Watsky's "Going Down" Goes Where No Straight Male Rapper Has Gone Before
Steel Wool/EMPIRE Records
There's a lot to like about George Watsky's recent release, x Infinity, and most of it is what fans liked about Watsky's previous releases. In case you're not up on the burgeoning San Francisco rapper/poet/New York Times-bestselling author, his musical blueprint is like a day at the races. The racetrack is a never-ending circle of dope beats which hosts the mad dash between his graceful, Secretariat-speedy cadence and his wire-to-wire wit.
Those who have paid attention to his work might tell you that what he does best — arguably better than most rappers today — is write songs about the human experience. Because sexuality is part of that experience, they may not have been surprised by the opening bars of "Going Down," track 12 on the new album. The first stanzas are boastful claims about sexual prowess, a familiar rap theme. But Watsky focuses on cunnilingus, which isn't the most common sex brag in hip-hop, so it’s refreshing to hear a rapper extol the virtues of this specific act, and extol he does in lines like “One tiny warning, I'm dining on your gourmet form until the morning, performing like it'll stop global warming.”
Yet it's what occurs in the second half of the song that’s more intriguing and quite possibly groundbreaking. We haven't listened to every rap song, so we may be wrong about this (feel free to fact-check us), but it's conceivable that Watsky is the first straight male rapper to record a rhyme contemplating willfully performing fellatio. Of course, many rappers have ordered their nemeses to "suck a d" and the like; but if any hetero male rapper has entertained the possibility of going down on another man in the thoughtful and provocative way Watsky does here, we've missed it.
Brian is Ze breaks it down for us.
Photo by Jesse Sendejas Jr.
"Many guys visualize giving BJs and say 'eww,' but can we just please give smoking pole a calm objective view?" he suggests, then makes his case with wordplay and open-mindedness. We've heard homophobic raps as far back as Brand Nubian's "Punks Jump Up to Get Beat Down" and have recently seen Kanye West vehemently deny anal play with the very female Amber Rose. So, isn’t Watsky taking a bit of a risk here, we wondered? We asked local gender-fluid rapper Brian is Ze and Texas Relationship Therapy's Dr. Viviana Coles to weigh in on the song and the subject.
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"I don't know Watsky's work or personal stances well enough to speak to his track record but it seems like it was just on topic and he spoke his mind. He kept it goofy. He was honest," BiZ says.
Turns out BiZ had a pretty solid read on Watsky’s motives. We asked and he took time from the European stretch of the x Infinity tour to provide some insight.
"With x Infinity I just set out to write honest songs,' he shared via e-mail. "I tried to silence the voice in the back of my head wondering what was and wasn't marketable. If I started writing a piece and it stood out to me as a perspective I hadn't heard before from others, I embraced it."
Dr. Coles is a doctor of psychotherapy with specialization in marriage and family therapy and has been a certified sex therapist for a decade. She’s known as the "Texas Love Doc" and practices in clinics across the state. She said she’s an R&B and hip-hop fan, but was unfamiliar with Watsky's work until we asked her about it.
Dr. Viviana Coles, the "Texas Love Doc"
Photo courtesy of Texas Relationship Therapy
“It’s a really interesting subject," she says. "I’m a huge fan of anybody who questions or discusses the kinds of social mores they were brought up with. I think the song does that in a bold but cheeky way. If I had a critique it’s that it’s not very sensual or sexual. It’s kind of funny and when music does that it kind of gives the subject a sense of ridiculousness. But it’s not degrading or off-putting. It has a positive spin and I think that’s good.”
BiZ agrees the song hits the spot.
“I think this song could be what ‘My Neck, My Back’ by Khia and ‘Say I Yi Yi’ by the Ying Yang Twins and Richard Pryor's bit about his uncle telling him never to eat pussy were for me, but for a bunch of younger millennial kids,” they add.
Dr. Coles said it’s that exact group — which both Watsky and BiZ belong to — that is pursuing "pleasurable sexual experiences that in the past have only been explored in marginal corners of sexuality." She mentioned pegging, anal play and three-ways as examples that are healthy when they involve consent.
“Every healthy man and woman typically belongs on a sexually-oriented spectrum, and I find that millennials especially are hopping around that spectrum. Many go past fantasizing and onto acting," she says.
Or, as Watsky puts it, "If I could get with it I'd have a wider ocean I'm fishing in." The construction of the song was as critical as the rhymes in delivering the message, he notes.
“I wanted to surprise people halfway through the song," he says. "So I had a couple opportunities to break down listeners' defenses. People who were predisposed to agree with me and were already thinking about sexual fluidity may have been annoyed by the first half of the song, which is pretty 'straight' ahead, but then had that assumption challenged when I switched gears,” he said. “However, people predisposed to a more conventional view of sexuality already had two minutes to laugh at funny punchlines in the simpler half of the song, which I think may have opened them up to more nuanced points later- points they ordinarily may have dismissed if they didn't feel they could relate to the speaker.”
BiZ points out many gay rappers like Cakes da Killa, Mykki Blanco, Will Sheridan, Big Dipper and Le1f “rap their asses off and just happen to talk about giving dudes head.” Both BiZ and Dr. Coles see music as a perfect vehicle for broadening these discussions.
“I explicitly talk about consent a lot in my overtly sexual raps and I've seen it start conversations," BiZ notes. "I think that music is a great avenue for doing that because people find themselves saying things they haven't said before and it is weird for them when it comes out of their mouth while they are singing along. "Cis straight people love the hook for ‘Polyolyoxenfree’ which goes ‘My girlfriend's got a boyfriend who is my girlfriend and my boyfriend, too.’ That's about being polyamorous but even more explicitly about dating genderqueer people. I think people are realizing that they are open to things and that is totally okay.”
After a long week of “locker room talk,” and at the very moment many people were celebrating National Coming Out Day, the time seemed right to jam “Going Down” on repeat and to examine its content from enlightened perspectives.
"This is the type of thing that ‘Same Love’ by Macklemore should have been,” BiZ notes. “Macklemore spent half the song explaining that he's not gay. Watsky has the sense to realize that it's a big world and life is long and he may end up wanting to put his mouth on a man, woman or queer's penis somewhere along the way and that it's totally chill."