Subgenre of the Month - Nerdcore

By: Andrea Grassi

Photo: Carmen Cheung

Jan. 27, 2009

I punch in theclosetgeekshow.com on my keyboard. This is the website my computer analyst friend, Brian, describes as "hot shit". I click on podcast #34, "Reveling in our Nerditage". Brian says if I listen to this, I too will join the legion of nerdcore.

Thunderbolts of screams and drum rolls from Evanescence blare from the podcast. As I turn down the volume, a prepubescent voice emerges. "This is host Brent Morris of Toronto, and the illustrious Andrew," Morris utters. I hear a chair creak. "I glow?" Andrew pipes in.

The Toronto-based show airs every Friday and features geekisms, dorky delights and console convos. The music is described as "adrenal". Post-nasal drip? Sleep disorders? The most I know about computers is how to use Google and Hotmail. Brian calls me a Generation XY sham. One minute into the podcast, Star Wars is referenced, then a calculation of how much beer it would take to fill a cottage in Muskoka ensues. "Never mind this, let's talk about geek rap, yo," Morris prompts.

Nerdcore is a subgroup of rap, also known as "cc rap" (computer console rap). It credits its creation solely to the powers of the Internet. The genre has been written about in Wired and The New York Times, broadcast on CNET and CNN. There are two documentaries devoted to it too, Nerdcore For Life and Nerdcore Rising, not to mention various podcasts, record labels, a social networking site (Nerdcore Por Vida), and even a clothing line, totallynerdcore.com.

The Internet – a technogeek's holy land – serves as a playground for new music. A sociological phenomenon born solely from the loins of the Internet, nerdcore rewrites a gangsta rap stereotype with another stereotype, that of the classic nerd. "You ever watch Revenge of the Nerds?" asks Andrew. "I just think of that when I think about nerdcore." Maybe this is because of the film's famous line: "No one will be free until nerd persecution ends." So, has nerd persecution ended? With users all over the world, and a culture obsessed with staying on the leading edge of technology, it is safe to say that nerds – those who, according to dictionary.com, are "obsessed with a nonsocial hobby of pursuit" – have gone mainstream. They're a stereotype no longer in stereo, if you will.

Nerdcore


Emerging from the digital realm into the hearts of millions of Internet-loving nerds, what distinguishes nerdcore is its content and approach. Rapping about video games, sci-fi characters and software devices, the nerdcore scene has given pleasure and hope to many a techno-mite. But you don't necessarily have to rap about nerdy topics to be a hardcore nerd. The key is in identification - becoming and embracing the "nerditage".

Back on the podcast, Morris and Andrew play MC Frontalot's track "Message from the 419", which is about e-mail spam. I search him on the net and a YouTube broadcast of Frontalot's show at SF Station, in his native San Francisco, pops up on my screen. Witty computer and gaming allusions make the beer-sloshing crowd scream while Frontalot's robotic moves, paired with epileptic shoulders and an overzealous index finger, make the performance the night to 50 Cent's day. "The Frontalot ownz j00, and Stephen Hawking r0x0rs/ We're not even talking solely to cats with argyle in their sock drawers."

Five minutes into the podcast, Morris and Andrew begin to talk about the weather, and watching the TV show House on PVR. Topics spiral into wrestling – which is better, the WWF or NCFF? Then onto how Tim Hortons is giving away a Rav4, and how big a penis should be. I start to wonder why the show is called "closet" geek. Following a segue into Mentos failing to be a fresh maker ("after three hours that shit is done"), the geek talk truly begins. "Nerds aren't known for going outside. Sub-basement-cred is what I got," says Andrew. Morris makes a reference to Weird Al's "It's All About the Pentiums", a spoof of Puff Daddy's 1996 hit "It's All About the Benjamins". "Were you there when I karaoked that?" asks Andrew, still squeaking in his chair.

At this point, I IM Brian: "This closet geek show is so ridiculous."

I'm tempted to shut down the witty banter, until Morris announces the first song, "Fett's Vett" by MC Chris. "If you don't get the title, you have no nerd cred," he says. Well, I didn't get it.

Heralded by SPIN magazine as "the cartoon world's answer to Ol' Dirty Bastard (minus the alleged crack addiction)", MC Chris's unmistakably helium-like voice and his knack for quick-time rap (no pun intended) is well respected by legions of nerd fans, and other rappers alike. An artist in his own right, MC Chris graduated from New York's prestigious Tisch School of the Arts after studying screenwriting. He left his career at the Cartoon Network (where he wrote, produced and lent his voice to numerous shows including "The Brak Show" and "Aqua Teen Hunger Force") for a full-force career in hip hop. I search the web for MC Chris and find a picture of the pint-sized player. Dark hair and a sideways ball cap, there's no matchy-matchy corduroy or black-rimmed glasses to speak of. Exploring his site, I find that "Fett's Vett" is an allusion to, what else, Star Wars. "My backpack's got jets/ Well I'm Boba the Fett/ Well I bounty hunt for Jabba Hutt/ To finance my 'Vette."

Brian IMs me back: "Keep watching." But I don't need his coaxing; I'm actually starting to enjoy the plunge.

On Hipsterplease.com, a site dedicated to nerdcore blogging, 2006 was declared the year of nerdcore's submergence into mainstream culture, or "Nerdcore Version 2.0". Why did nerdcore become so popular? "Nerdcore seems to be pretty open to everyone with a microphone and Internet connection," MC Frontalot explained to me, back in 2007. "These people – the people who have been self-producing rap songs along with their computers – have so far been interested in a lot of the same things: gaming, sci-fi, fantasy, literature, computer-science."

One of the forefathers of nerdcore, MC Frontalot claims the Internet is 100 per cent responsible for his success. "A big theme seems to be the examination of the assumption that nobody will ever pay attention to us. Which is, I guess, a lot left over from the issue of growing up as a nerd."

Closet Geek reverts back to lightsabers – the unreeling pandemonium that was YouTube's Star Wars kid – a teen that filmed himself alone in his basement wielding a golf ball retriever as a lightsaber, complete with sound effects. Morris calls him "Vagina McGinestein" for wanting to sue the kids that posted his homemade lightsaber dance. The video itself spawned a website of over 9000 remixes including special effects. It got to a point where the Star Wars kid couldn't go anywhere without being recognized. The response to this obscure video proves there are a lot of us online.

With frequent use of antisocial technology – console games, Internet dating - the once-laughed-upon techno-geeks may not be such a select group anymore. In fact, the perpetual neediness for these technologies has become prevalent in our entertainment culture – a powerful vehicle of lifestyle and trend. The social paradox is: are these classically un-cool pastimes and fixations now considered cool because they're popular? Look at the emo outfit – a generation of hypersensitive misfits, but still a generation. And thus by definition, powerful.

I IM Brian: "OK, it's not that bad. But I still won't go to a convention or anything."

"Fuck the MP-double A, fuck the RI-double A, fuck the suits behind the BSA, and fuck 'em all for the DMCA," chant Futuristic Sex Robotz (FSR) on the podcast – the only nerdcore collaborative on the scene. The song is about the much talked about DVD-DeCSS controversy of 2000. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) put an encryption called CSS on all their DVDs to prevent the public from copying and pirating their movies. This caused a backlash because movie buyers could not make backups of their DVDs, which they should be able to do under the Fair Use clause stating that owners can make copies as long as they aren't shared. Wanting music to be freely copied and shared, FSR makes their albums free to download, in order to "stick it to the man", as Morris says. "In the butt," Andrew replies with a laugh.

After playing ten nerdcore-classified songs by other nerdcore elites like Monzy, Optimus Rhyme and MC Lars, Morris ends the geek talk, hopeful that more people will get into the genre. "It's about time that it's cool to be a nerd."

"Do you think nerdcore artists get chicks?" Andrew asks.

The paradox remains: Is the mainstream accepting of nerds? Or are the nerds just getting their revenge?


Video: "Bizarro Genius Baby" by MC Frontalot

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