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Nerdcore mixes geek culture with hip-hop

Not everyone’s a fan

Like any other music genre, nerdcore has drawn criticism from outsiders. Detractors have decried it as everything from repulsive to simplistic to “too damn white.” In a Penny Arcade thread from 2008, one forum user undertook to dismantle MC Frontalot’s “Rhyme of the Nibelung” in an attempt to illustrate the differences between nerdcore and (arguably) “genuine” hip-hop.

Too simple. Too stiff. Too literal. “There are no double meanings, there are no creative metaphors, no slang, just straight forward rhyming words,” the forum user grouses.

The disdain and resentment that nerdcore elicits in some quarters has not gone unnoticed by the subgenre’s practitioners. In “Nerdcore Hiphop,” MC Frontalot raps about how other artists shy away from an association with him, frightened at how it might reflect on them.

Henry Bowers
This is a serious face, right?

Nonetheless, nerdiness is far from scarce within the the larger field of hip-hop. As Bowers observes in an email interview:

“Most rappers I know and like are extremely nerdy, though some might disguise it more than others. Especially battle rappers seem to have a tendency to be really nerdy if you look at the content of what they spit. They might look (and even be) hard and rough on the outside, but their impressive range of knowledge of nerdy stuff like sci-fi and cartoons is often showing in their punchlines and word plays.”

Nathaniel Chambers, a musician who most recently worked on the soundtrack for Wadjet Eye Games’ postapocalyptic robot adventure title Primordia, believes that most hostility toward nerdcore originates from an inaccurate perception that it may be a cultural cash-in.

“I think some people view it as an attempt at jumping onto the ever-growing and ever-broadening ‘nerd’ genre, but I think it’s very, very valid,” Chambers says, “I think [nerdcore] is a response to people who have grown up with video games, computers, and other aspects of nerd culture.”

Roger Hicks, a self-described Renaissance Man who makes everything from Web-based music sequences to indie video games, echoes Bowers and Chambers. He says that there are no hard-and-fast rules about what makes a song nerdcore or hip-hop.

“The beat can be anything,” Hicks explains. “And in hip-hop, you can use any beat—rock, chiptune, electronica, gangsta, whatever. It’s a mashup of every other genre. If nerdcore is a subgenre of hip-hop, the same holds true for nerdcore: It’s all about rhyming to a beat.”

Though Hicks acknowledges that many nerdcore artists are Caucasian, he also sees ethnicity as a nonissue. “I’m also a programmer and I’ve met very few other black programmers/hackers. I mean, I’m sure there’s a lot but the majority seems to be white—that doesn’t make programming racist, does it?”

Mega Ran's ‘Splash Woman.’

If Mega Ran—a nerdcore artist who has been involved in the scene for little more than half a decade—is right, nerdcore may soon cease to be a frowned-upon novelty item and instead become a fixture within the hip-hop community.

“It’s become a lot ‘cooler,’ for lack of a better word,” Mega Ran told TechHive. “I love the fact that it’s easier to explain today than it was in the mid-2000s, and I feel that it’s a lot more polished and respectable on the whole, as more and more talented artists have been less afraid of the label.”

Double Stomp Photography
Mega Ran ponders the future of nerdcore.

“The novelty stigma is there, and I battle with it all the time,” Mega Ran continues. “As long as people know that what I do isn’t a parody act, that’s what’s important to me. I let the skills do the talking, and most people shut up.”

Hicks agrees: “Look at Kendrik Lamar. He’s one of the most popular new artists these days, and he has songs about watching cartoons and eating cereal. Nowadays, it’s beginning to feel like being ‘nerdy’ is cool. Nerdcore doesn’t feel very much different from conventional hip-hop anymore.”

[Top photo: dwphotos/Shutterstock]

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