My first experience of what we now call “nerdcore” would have been MC Hawking. Goodness knows, I thought it was a pretty good stand-alone joke. Ha ha, wouldn't it be funny if Stephen Hawking moonlighted as a hardcore gangster rapper, bustin' rhymes about how he uses a Kalashnikov to teach “bitch-ass punks from MIT” about mass times acceleration. Hilarious.
Well, turns out it's not an isolated incident, this nerd-rapping business. This is, of course, old news, but my purpose here is making a critical appraisal, not a documentary.
In my previous post, I posed the semi-rhetorical question “can Nerdcore be buck?”. Buck, for those just tuning in now (or too lazy to follow the link last time), refers to the congruency of internal artistry and external expression (particularly physical, but I'm fudging it a little here). The way I understand “buckness” is basically as the artistic cousin of the existentialist's “good faith”. Your art has to be true to your essence, or else it's counterfeit currency. The obvious answer to the above question would, then, be “No”. No, nerdcore is not particularly “buck”, because it's more parody than legitimate art. The reason most people would be entertained by nerdcore rap is that nerds and geeks are the last people one would expect to have any kind of hip-hop ethos. To some extent, I think this is true. While not actually a “nerdcore” song, Weird Al's All About The Pentiums is in many ways the archetypal example: hip-hop beats and disses with all the words changed to be about computers instead of women, guns, and money.
Allow me to digress a moment while I establish what I consider to be “good” hip-hop. In my mind, the key elements are (in no particular order): catchy beats, clever wordplay, a good sense of rhythm and lyrical flow, and a sense of social awareness and advocacy. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five's The Message is a pretty excellent example:
Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't at least make mention of IAM. That's right, French Rap.
So, we've got our criteria, we've got our baseline for the sort of hip-hop I enjoy listening to...now what?
The first thing I thought about after considering that Nerdcore might not be very buck was that it had a close cousin in the slacker-rap juxtaposition found in Office Space, and more recently the album "The Old Prince Still Lives At Home" by Shad. Slacker hip hop contrasts the layabout ethic of the slacker with the naked ambition of the gangster rapper, to humorous effect. But there's a certain buckness to it, because when you mix the two, the result is the expression of a desire to gain power and fortune with absolutely zero effort (which is basically the goal of the main character of Office Space, QED). Of course, this only works insofar as Office Space truly represents slacker culture, but I think that "success without effort" is not that audacious a motto to propose for slackers. "But, I thought the point of slacking was that you rejected this whole success and achievement bullshit!", I hear you cry. I would respond to that by saying that a slacker doesn't lack a definition of success as a result, but has merely synchronized his or her definition of success to his or her own whims, and not to the expectations of others, particularly the boss. (In addition, who are you to say that damn, it does not feel good to be a gangster? Hmm?)
But is there really no hope for nerdcore hip-hop? I contend that while a fair amount of the genre seems to be mired in a sort of self-parody, there are shining gems of nerdcore achievement. MC Hawking is a particularly good example: his rhymes are reasonably clever, and some of his songs (What We Need More Of Is Science, Fuck The Creationists) address a real social issue: Religious fundamentalism and how it can be dumb sometimes. Also, The Big Bizang and Entropy are EDUCATIONAL. Basically the best thing since Bill Nye brought you those hilariously cheesy covers of popular songs with science lyrics. Check it:
So, finally I come to what is, in my experience, the crowning achievement of Nerdcore as a genre. No, it isn't Optimus Rhyme, no matter how fuckin' awesome their name may be. No, I mean MC Frontalot. In particular, the track Secrets From The Future. Discussion of the track after you listen.
I really can't overstate the merits of this track. It's catchy, mildly educational, and rapped by a man who moves and sounds like a motherfuckin' ROBOT. Except without the metallic twang that you'd expect in a ROBOT VOICE. Not only does he manage to cram in lyrics about things like one-time-pads, rainbow tables, and dictionary attacks, he makes them rhyme and flow with cyborg-level precision (theory: dude's the final Cylon on BSG). The cream on top is that the final lyrics to the song reference computronium and the technological singularity. To boot, privacy (or lack thereof) is a real concern in the wired and now wireless-ed world, so learning about how to keep your "most closely held personal thought" out of the hands of script kiddies and nosy, overly empowered federal agents alike is a very good thing to do. Frontalot raps with conviction and intensity aplenty, and it is most clear that he knows his shit. He even claims to have written the thing at a hacking convention. Ladies and Gentlemen, we have located The Buckness. His name is Frontalot.
PS: While I don't think her sound is quite buck enough to make the cut, MC Router has about the best nerd tattoo possible.Word.