I tend to have a very personal relationship with the music I listen to. While I’m constantly consuming new music in new styles, after a time, songs start to build up nostalgia and meaning for me and I can sort of trace the musical history of my liking various genres. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about nerdcore. I appreciate the genre a lot, because I came to terms with being a giant nerd at about the time I really started to get into hip-hop. Nerdcore also questions a lot of assumptions that most people make about hip-hop music, and that hip-hop music makes about itself. If hip-hop music or nerdcore aren’t your things, then I’d get off the ride now.
Anyway, for the sake of this post I’m going to use a very broad definition of nerdcore, inclusive not only of original music produced in that genre, but also of mashups that engage with both hip-hop culture and nerd culture. That is to say, I’m including this:
I’m kind of going down memory lane, and I’d like for you to come with me. Hopefully you’ll find something that interests you, and then you’ll be open to a whole new genre of music, and see what kind of progress we’ve made.
So, like I was saying, nerdcore appeals to me in part because of the artistic juxtaposition of ostensibly unrelated subcultures. Nerdcore artists write about the geeky life experience, about Star Trek and Star Wars, Dungeons & Dragons, computers and coding, and they often do so with the kind of rhythm and arrogance thought to be reserved for songs about Rolls-Royces and scantily clad women. I’m a big fan of taking expectations and turning them on their heads, and I’m fond of the broadening of any class of artistic endeavor.
Nerdcore began in the year 2000 with the artist MC Frontalot. While we’re at it, this is his 2013 track “I’ll Form the Head”—if you hadn’t guessed, it references the giant robot sentai team drama a la Gatchaman.
Specifically, he was the first one to coin “nerdcore” as a term. He certainly wasn’t the first rapper to address science fiction or subjects like that. I mean, who could forget this track from the Beastie Boys’s 1998 album Hello Nasty?
Another powerhouse of nerdcore, among artists like MCPlus+ and Optimus Rhyme, is mc chris (much like bell hooks, only not at all). The Illinois native has long been an active participant in nerd culture, writing and voice acting for Adult Swim shows like The Brak Show, Space Ghost, and Aqua Teen Hunger Force. He has since dropped such engagements to focus on his music career, and like any good rapper, can’t help courting a little controversy. Here’s his track “Fett’s Vette,” one of my favorites:
If you’re noticing a theme in all of this, that there’s a certain parody of the hip-hop genre going on, you’re not wrong. I don’t believe that takes away from their status as genuine works of art. In fact, rather the opposite. The highest forms of humor are those that engage with irony. That being said, it does make a certain point, which I’ll illustrate using Weird Al Yankovic. Here’s his “All About the Pentiums,” a parody of Puff Daddy (or whatever the hell we’re calling him this week)’s “All About the Benjamins.”
Pretty clearly parody from where I’m sitting, strictly in the region of parody. While I really enjoyed this song, it didn’t really have a place to be categorized with other music, except with the rest of Running with Scissors. Fast forward seven years (and catch Key & Peele in this video, along with Seth Green):
While it likely seemed to a more mainstream audience to be just as much a parody as the aforementioned 1999 track, by the time of its release, there were several active artists releasing similar songs that didn’t consider themselves parody artists or purveyors of “comedy hip-hop.” MC Hawking (featured at the top of the article) is one such artist. A persona developed by web developer Ken Lawrence, MC Hawking is a tribute persona dedicated to physicist Stephen Hawking As many hip-hop artists do, he makes the occasional dips into message music, attacking the influence of fundamentalism and anti-intellectualism on our culture with his 2004 track “What We Need More of is Science.”
That’s from 2004’s A Brief History of Rhyme. I find that play on words rather witty, which brings me to how I wanted to wrap up this article. So, we’ve had a little bit of a tour through the more popular acts in nerdcore, but there are nerdy hip-hop mashups floating about the internet for your consumption. Many of them are excellent, like Team Teamwork’s Ocarina of Rhyme and Vinyl Fantasy 7. These two albums use background music from classic video game titles as beats for mashups with lyrics by such diverse rappers as Jay-Z, Mike Jones, MF Doom, Aesop Rock, and M.O.P. Sounds a little bit like this:
If you’re me, you’re always looking for new kinds of music, interesting kinds of music, and good crossovers. In a lot of ways, nerdcore fills that niche for me in terms of hip-hop. I think beyond that, nerdcore is important because in the decade of the 2000s it set the stage for more inclusion of techno music influences and “nerdy” content into mainstream hip-hop. As a thing that makes hip-hop nerdier, nerdcore is near and dear to my heart, and hopefully now, a little nearer and dearer to yours. I’ll send you off with the video for Child Rebel Soldier (a supergroup of Kanye West, Pharell Williams, and Lupe Fiasco)’s remix for “Everybody Nose.” You can watch the video pay homage to classic gaming while they rap about cocaine: