Music: Goin’ Nerdcore

NOTE: I originally intended for this piece to run in a music magazine I was writing for.  Unfortunately, that magazine announced their hiatus recently, so not wanting my work to go to waste, I’m reproducing it here.  It’s more journalistically-styled than the usual content but I think it’s still in keeping with the theme of my blog.

Rap is a many-splendored thing.  You’ve got East Coast, West Coast, Southern Rap, and countless other styles.  And then there’s nerdcore, which the Race Wars tour is bringing to Grand Rapids on Thursday.

A relatively recent underground phenomenon, nerdcore is the combination of rap and offbeat pop culture, favoring comic books and video games over gangstas and hoes.  It’s a diverse genre, with numerous artists of different styles and levels of self-awareness and humor.  Even the name “nerdcore” is met with either enthusiasm or distain, depending on who’s talking.  But one thing in common with all nerdcore rappers is passion and dedication to the music.

“Hip-hop is poetry,” said MC Lars, one of the stars of the Race Wars tour.  “Everyone has so much to say, and it’s a way to present your stuff in an interesting style.”

Lars is one of the biggest figures of the nerdcore scene.  Beginning on a study abroad trip to Oxford, his career has grown to include founding his own label and releasing several studio albums, the latest of which, Lars Attacks!, drops this week. Ever the entrepreneur, Lars has a literature-inspired album and a collaboration with labelmate Weerd Science in the works, as well as plans for a children’s series which would be the “Sesame Street of hip-hop.”

“I just do everything on my own terms,” said Lars.  “I was actually studying to be a teacher, and it’s funny how things come around like this, where I can teach people through my music.”

Nerdcore has a way of bringing people in.  Rapper Random started out as a straight hip-hop/rap artist, only to develop a devoted nerdcore following with Mega Ran, an album which uses remixed video game music as the beats.  A man of two worlds, he’s opened for Common and The Roots, as well as played the Penny Arcade Expo, a video game convention.

“I released my first album, The Call, which was very traditional hip-hop, and then I was kind of bored,” said Random.  “I was playing a lot of video games, actually.  And the Mega Man games really took me back to my childhood.  I thought it would be cool to reuse some of that music in a hip-hop setting.”

“I was so afraid of it failing,” continued Random.  “That’s where the name “Mega Ran” came from, as a way to distance the album from myself.  So I put it up online, and it took off.  Who would’ve thought?”

Random has since released multiple video game-themed albums, drawing from sources like Final Fantasy and games for the Famicom system.  His latest project is Meg Ran 10, an album utilizing beats from Capcom’s latest Mega Man title.

Not everyone on the tours is an old pro.  “This is my first time touring,” said Adam WarRock.  “I’m excited, but also mildly terrified.  It’ll be my first taste of life on the road.”

WarRock is a new face in the nerdcore scene.  While he’s been making music for a while, it wasn’t until last year that he quit his job and became a full-time musician.  A renaissance man, WarRock has worked on podcasts and webcomics in addition to rapping.

“Early on, I was writing like three songs a week,” said WarRock.  “It was like a blog.  I’d just write about what was on my mind, or what I was doing.  It wasn’t until later than I started bringing things together, writing songs that say something for my albums.”

WarRock is also not afraid to use humor to make a point.  “All of us are dorks,” said WarRock.  “And if you grow up nerdy, you need a sense of humor.  I think we’ve all had that moment in high school when you realize you can make the joke before someone else does.”

Nerdcore may sound strange, but WarRock encourages new audiences to give it a try.

“Come with an open mind,” said WarRock.  “There’s something for everyone in there.”

The Race Wars tour hits the Intersection in Grand Rapids on September 8th.  For more information or to buy tickets, visit
http://www.sectionlive.com.

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