Credit the early efforts of Weird Al, perhaps. Today, the once-disparate camps of nerdom and hip hop have criss-crossed enough to form a proper musical sub-genre. And we thusly call it “nerdcore.”
Now, sure, Soulja Boy may rap about Death Note from time to time, and the Beastie Boys proudly reveled in dorkiness. To qualify as a nerdcore rapper, though, one must not only rap about nerdy things, but also identify as a nerd. Got that straight? Don’t worry if you don’t. This niche kinda embraces its own diffuseness, anyway. Self-publishing abounds, and tracks must often be given away online to abide by fair use laws. The biggest MCs aren’t even charted like they’d be in “regular” hip hop.
Now, if you’ve ever thought an anime theme would make a dope sample, or wondered how a crossover would sound when retold in epic verse, or maybe just wanted to hear your own geeky concerns given voice, here are three MCs from the nerdcore scene you should seriously seek out.
He’d produced tracks for legit hip hop outfits like Def Jam and G-Unit, but he always wanted to pay lyrical tribute to two of his biggest passions–anime and video games. Today, he’s not just partly responsible for Toonami’s comeback, he’s also masterminding the PS4 title Rhymequest.
Branson’s M.O. goes far beyond just tossing geeky references around. His track, “Toguro’s Dreams,” is told entirely from the perspective of Yu Yu Hakusho‘s nastiest villain, and he’s even made albums entirely about Gundam and Knights of the Old Republic. The deep cuts can get impressively obscure. Remember that quirky SNES-era game, Zombies Ate My Neighbors? Richie sure does.
Being part of Branon’s “Otaku Gang” is an interactive experience, as the MC often likes to challenge himself with targets set by his audience. For the Otaku Tuesdays projects, he let fans pick the shows he’d be paying tribute to, week-to-week. The results yielded “Against the Wall,” which put the man vs. colossus war in Attack on Titan to song, and “Stand Up,” an homage to Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure replete with over-the-top Engrish samples. Lately, he’s been mashing up the Star Wars score with Notorious B.I.G. tracks to major acclaim from MTV and Billboard.
Here’s the guy who actually named this little sub-genre (with his 2000 song, “Nerdcore Hiphop”). And there’s even a whole documentary following him on his national Nerdcore Rising tour. With six studio albums under his belt, Frontalot has become Penny Arcade‘s “rapper laureate,” and performed regularly at their annual expo. He’s also popped up on the tube a few times, serving as a King of the Nerds judge and–maybe most importantly–guesting on Elmo’s Potty Time to teach a certain lil’ muppet a valuable lesson on T.P.
For a sample of his stuff, give “Spoiler Alert” a look/listen below. Be fair warned, though–the title ain’t a joke. Frontalot ruins the endings of as many geeky movies as he can in under four minutes, blowing the surprise twists of the Sixth Sense, Watchmen, and Planet of the Apes, among plenty of others.
Dig it? Check out “First World Problem” next, wherein Frontalot spits off a litany of not-so-grievious nerdy grievances (like the over-complicated nature of iPhone instructions and the deluge of spam bots on FaceBook). Then give “I’ll Form the Head” a listen. Frontalot and a couple guest rappers play pilots in a Voltron-like squad, trading verses about who’d be the best leader for their combined mech.
A former lawyer-cum-podcaster, Eugene Ahn’s raps and persona spun out of the “War Rocket Ajax” show he once co-hosted with Chris Sims. His stage name is taken from one of Marvel’s strangest cosmic superheroes, and his catalog hits plenty of characters from the House of Ideas (and its distinguished competition, DC Comics, natch). In fact, his War for Infinity concept album covers the many clashes between Adam Warlock and that big bad, Thanos, throughout arcs like the Infinity Gauntlet.
Adam’s focus can zero in on far more specific geeky subjects, though. In “B.S.F.X.” he turns the onomatopoeia of the Caped Crusader’s Silver Age adventures into a fist-pumping anthem.
The Uncanny X-Men are another favorite subject for Mr. WarRock. Hear him give super-square Scott Summer his due in “That Was Cyclops,” or alternately play devil’s advocate for the master of magnetism in “Magneto Was Right.” He’s even ventured out of superheroics and into the faraway isle of Westeros, putting House Stark’s motto to a beat in “When the Winter Comes” and paying tribute to everybody’s favorite taciturn giant in “Hodor.”
Do any other nerdcore rappers deserve some love? Sound off with your picks down below.
Featured Image Credit: Richie Branson