Words by Evan Gabriel
Contrary to much of the internet buzz recently, Chester Watson is not in St. Louis, or St. Petersburg Florida. He hasn't been in either city for years. He's sitting in a dark room in Conyers, Georgia, smiling. Throughout the course of our conversation over Skype, I was struck by Watson's genuine interest in not only his own art, (he is quick to say he "doesn't fuck with anybody," just his own music) but also his fascination with life as it rotates around him. All smiles and modest nods, the 16-year-old rapper/producer and budding playwright maintains a curious mind.
"You paint?" he asks me, referring to some pieces on my wall. When I tell him one is a portrait of James Baldwin, I hear the rattle of the keyboard as he fires off a Google search. A true child of the internet, the high schooler will gladly tell you that Tumblr is more important than YouTube, or rattle off one of the production programs he's been tinkering with, "FL Studio, Logic, Reason, I'm just getting into Ableton," he says.
The internet happens to be just as interested in him. Since releasing a single/video Phantom last year (along with a mixtape of the same title), Chester has been praised by everyone from the revamped Myspace to LA Weekly to BBC1's Zane Lowe and every blog in between worth their salts.
Fortunately for us at Greenroom, the two producers Chester has been working on his next project are our hometown friends Psymun and Art Vandelay. The latter of whom helped coordinate the exclusive track premiere of Camels and Cranes. Stream and download the track below while Chester talks about Earl Sweatshirt comparisons, his love of all things DOOM and his working relationships with Vandelay and Psymun.
When did you know you wanted to rhyme?
After I stopped dancing [ballet]. I said 'I wanna make music now cause I'm not doing shit else.' Me and my friend used to write shit and battle before school. That's when I stopped liking dance." [3 yrs ago]
You're pretty internet savvy. Is there a philosophy behind that?
I didn't really do shit. I think I sent it [Phantom] to like, two blogs. From there is just blew up on its own. [bites into a corn-dog] Just make good music. It will get heard.
Your sound draws influence from 90s hip hop, similar to Joey Badass, but you don't claim that as your niche like he does. Can you talk about the influence of your sound?
A lot of my song names are like [MF] Doom and Madvillainy names. I use a lot of low-fi samples like Doom does, and the way I produce came a lot from him. Sometimes I even rap like him. I'll be like, "damn that shit sounds like Doom," so I'll add something in.
Speaking of Doom, how jealous of Bishop Nehru are you right now? [A teenage emcee from Brooklyn reportedly at work on an album with DOOM]
I've actually only heard one of his songs and I don't even remember the name of it was, but it's pretty tight. When I first started seeing my name popping up everywhere, I'd see his name too, and I'm like, "Who the fuck is this guy? Another fuckin' sixteen-year-old, killin' shit." And then I saw he was doing shit with Doom and I was like, fuck. [bursts laughing] I'm too late! But yeah, I heard he's tight.
Whose your favorite producer?
Nujabes. He's the shit. He's awesome. Sucks man. Whoever ran Nujabes over, Fuck you! You ruined everything.
You're compared to Earl Sweatshirt frequently, and you even mention it in your rhymes ['Is he jacking off Earl or paying gorgeous homage']. What is it specifically about Earl that inspires you?
He's lax. He's nonchalant. And that's how I am as a person. Like even talking, I sound like Earl. It's not like I do it on purpose. It just happens. But he's tight. I heard "Drop" from my friend who was playing it for me like three years ago and I was like, "damn, that shit is fresh as fuck."
Tell me about linking up with Art Vandelay and making "Camels and Cranes?"
We linked up through Soundcloud. He sent me a link to his instrumentals and we started working almost immediately [laughs], he sent a plethora of beats that I ended up sorting through and using some of. For "Camels and Cranes," we had already been sending each other beats and we had been working together on a few, and that was one that he had made for me back during the summer. I wrote to it and now it is the song that it is. [laughs] He's nice as hell on the beats.
How do you feel about the emergence of teenage emcees and producers over the past few years?
I think it's pretty tight. Because now it's like young dudes killin' shit. It's more competition now because everybody's having to step their shit up. It's like, if you're getting outdone by a sixteen-year-old, it's embarrassing as fuck. You don't want to do it.
Where's the best spot to skate in St. Louis?
I've never skated there. I only lived St. Louis for like five years, that was like my first five years. And then I moved to Georgia. And then I moved to Florida, and I grew up there pretty much. But I don't claim Florida as my home because I'm not from there.
Where in Florida?
Clearwater, like near St. Petersburg. Right now I live in Georgia, in Connyers, near Covington. But there's not shit to do out here though. All you can pretty much do is smoke.
Is the seclusion condusive to working?
I don't know, I've been going crazy up here. It's so secluded and shit, and I'm so used to being with my friends. So I don't know. I've been whacked out lately, off of some weird, like mental instability shit. So I haven't dropped shit. The only shit I've dropped is with Psymun. Because he'll be like, yo Chester I have a beat. And Psymun beats I write to fast as fuck for some reason. Like that Dead Albatross track, he sent that to me at 9 PM on Thursday, and he was like, 'I'm dropping the tape tomorrow and, if you don't make it it's cool. I was like, "I'm gonna write to this!" And he was like, "bro, everyone needs sleep." I was like, "it's either I go to sleep and dream about being on your tape, or I stay up and write." He was like, "makes sense." And I fell asleep writing the last part of it. So I had to take my Mic to my aunt's crib and shit. It was crazy.
What was the writing process of "Dead Albatross?" [his song featured on Psymun's heartsick EP]
It was about this old English poem we read in class called "The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner." It was about this dude who has this crew. They sail around the world. And they meet the deathship, and he kills the albatross, and then he starts having bad luck. So that's where dead albatross comes from. They hung the albatross around is neck. So it's like, "no chain gets slain like the Ablatross." So it's like the albatross was the good luck and he killed it.
What was the experience of having your "Phantom" video go semi-viral?
One night I woke up and saw someone had posted it. And then it jumped from 14,000 to 17,000 over night. And then it just kept doing those big leaps. And then it sped back up after Zane Lowe played it on BBC1. I didn't even know what BBC1 was! And then I saw it on twitter. That was one of the first radio plays I ever got, you know? Shit just started happening after that. Big thanks to Zane Lowe. He's awesome.
Can you tell me about your crew Nu Age?
"We didn't all start off together. At first it was just me and my homie Shane. And then my friend Duke from middle school. Slowly we got people, and then lost people. And we're at eight people now and I think this is how it's gonna stay. They're dope as fuck actually. Comme, he has some shit coming out. His Stay Low EP with Shane and Lumi has some shit out on Halloween.
What's one thing you've learned about the music industry that you could tell your self a year or two ago?
Don't fuck with n****s. Don't fuck with everybody, because people do fuck you over. A lot. If I had known that right when I started, well I never fucked with people, but if I'd known that I'd be a lot more happy I guess. I mean, I'm happy right now. But you can always be happier. Also Tumblr is your best friend. If you blow up on Tumblr you blow up everywhere else. Youtube doesn't even count anymore. So yeah, utilize Tumblr! It's sick