I have to admit that when I released my debut rap single about a year ago, I never considered “nerdcore” a legitimate musical genre. I may have presented it as such in my blog post, in which I linked to other nerdy rappers whom I admired, but this was mostly because I’ve been indoctrinated into the academic tradition of giving credit to “related work.” Certainly there were a variety of geeky rap artists writing songs about topics like anime, computers, video games, and role-playing, but I doubt that most of them would have identified themselves as “nerdcore.” At that time, many of these artists were not aware of the other nerd rappers populating the Internet, and I suspect that some of them would have taken offense at the “nerd” label. MC Plus+, for example, did not identify his music as nerdcore, describing himself instead as a “CS gangsta.”
But then came the Wired article, which adopted the same tone as my blog post and declared that a variety of artists were “nerdcore” whether they knew it or not. Another item in the Daily Tarheel followed suit, and then one on cool.com.au, and more like them that began with greater and greater frequency to portray nerdcore as a genre, a musical “scene,” or even a nerd “movement.”
My performance at Geekapalooza.
|These descriptions in the media were not particularly accurate, given that the nerdcore “movement” was really just a handful of people with web pages and blogs who emailed MP3s to each other. Nevertheless, they gave a certain credence to the idea of a collective of nerd artists banding together to start a musical trend. Artists increasingly began identifying themselves as “nerdcore,” and as awareness of the nerdcore label increased, many aspiring rappers jumped in and began recording songs.|
I regard the nerdcore “movement” with a certain ambivalence. The great thing about nerdcore is that anyone can do it — its self-publishing ethic means that all you need to be a “nerdcore artist” is a microphone and a pirated copy of Adobe Audition. The horrible thing about nerdcore is that anyone can do it — even those with little originality or talent.
MC Frontalot, who is generally portrayed as the “godfather” of nerdcore (having coined the term many years back) is an extraordinarily skilled rapper who puts a tremendous amount of effort into his lyrics and his recordings. Meanwhile, scores of copycats have jumped onto the nerdcore bandwagon by recording low-quality tracks with little artistic merit, diluting the genre with their hackneyed rap attempts. I shudder to imagine what the average person might think of the nerdcore “movement” were his first exposure to the field to be the music of a goofball like Rappy McRapperson (consciously atrocious) or an uninspired imitator like Ill Engineer (also shitty, but unintentionally so).
There’s also the larger question of whether nerdcore is a parody of hip-hop or an homage. Much of mainstream rap music is insipid and unimaginative, constantly repeating the same tired themes, so I can understand the appeal of satirizing it. However, there’s a lot of great rap out there as well, and as someone who regularly listens to and thoroughly appreciates “real” rap music, my personal intent is not to ridicule the genre as a whole, or to poke fun at hip-hop culture. While the majority of nerdcore hip-hop does incorporate humor, the type of nerdcore that I admire the most has lyrics that are funny in their own right, and not because they mock mainstream rap music.
|Above all, it’s in the nature of nerds to be inclusive. When a new kid transfers to your school, if he tries to sit at the lunch table with the cool kids, they won’t have anything to do with him, but if he sits down at the nerd table, they’ll welcome him. Being at the bottom of the social hierarchy leaves nerds little room to criticize, and the tendency to be tolerant and non-judgmental is one of the nerd traits I admire. So on one hand I understand why the new nerdcore compilation features a whopping 55 artists, many of whom had never previously produced a single track; on the other hand, I fear that this policy of blanket inclusion may cause the rappers with actual talent to be buried amidst a tide of crap.|
So, with that decidedly mixed review, I direct you to the first ever nerdcore compilation album, Rhyme Torrents, slated for release tomorrow and soon available for download. I will say that despite my misgivings about the project, the first disc contains some awesome hip-hop. I was blown away by the hilarious rhymes in Shael Riley‘s tightly produced “Miss Information,” which spreads outrageous lies about some of nerdcore’s major players (apparently I am actually Ice Cube). I was also immensely impressed by ytcracker‘s “White Warrior,” a hard-hitting dis track targeted at mc chris, who has recently taken some flak in the nerdcore community for declining to participate in the compilation project. The infectious tracks by Beefy (“Tub of Tabasco”) and MC Hawking (“Rock Out with your Hawk Out”) are definitely worth a listen, and of course I recommend you check out the new song that I recorded for the compilation, Kill Dash Nine (lyrics here). Invoking the