When the opportunity to interview mc chris unexpectedly presented itself, I was thrilled. In the very small pond that is nerd music, mc is a not merely a big fish; he’s a whale. mc is a creature apart in form and, to a lesser degree, function. I’ll end this metaphor here, before anyone mentions that one could scarcely find a pond large enough to sustain a whale. I mustn’t ruin the moment.
mc chris has made a name for himself by simply doing what he loves. He writes the rhymes that he feels led and makes the decisions that seem right for him at the time. One such decision was to distance himself from the musical movement known as nerdcore hip hop. Generally unfamiliar with the term and put off by the isolationist trappings inherent in categorizing one’s music, mc eschewed nerdcore in favor of simply being mc. Unfortunately, this decision snow-balled, and many of the artists that he had helped to inspire felt abandoned by their progenitor.
Willy Shakespeare tells us that some men are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. To that I wish to add the caveat and others still find themselves asked to champion a cause with which they are wholly unfamiliar.
Such is the tale of mc chris.
He was nice enough to share that tale with Hipster, please!, and I couldn’t be happier to share it with you.
At what point did you decide to put your admittedly odd voice to work as a rapper?
When I started rapping I still hated my voice and I never thought it was gonna be anything other than a joke for that very reason: my voice was too high. What ended up happening is my voice actually set me apart and got me noticed and into cartoons. So I tell everyone to reevaluate their flaws and then make like mc and cash in. To answer the question though, I’ve been rapping for over ten years. It started as soon as I got to NYU because I became friends with Adam Rabuck who had a pop-punk band called Dirt Bike Annie. Once he acquired an 8-track we made songs quite regularly. I plan to put most of that early 8 track stuff out this year. You’ll hear stuff like, "did I fail to mention," in old songs; you'll see how things came to be. And it was never a decision made on purpose. If mc chris has primordial ooze its Colt 45. Much of these records were assembled while Adam and I were intoxicated.
When and why did you settle on the lack of capitalization evidenced in the moniker mc chris?
I just never like the way it looked any other way, and I never wanted people to lump me in with other rappers. Because I was something different. It wasn't real rap. I’ve never thought of myself as, like, a real mc. I’m too irreverent towards the music. I don't mind MCCHRIS, like for posters and t-shirts. But in the first credit sequence of Sealab they asked me how I wanted it and it's like that in Brak Show, Space Ghost, and ATHF. I can't wait to see if they got it right in the upcoming movie. They've always been cool enough to do it lowercase when they coulda said, "Fuck you, how's Chris Ward sound?"
How instrumental do you feel your association with Williams Street Studios was in allowing you to become successful in your musical endeavors?
Totally and completely. I’d like to think my music might've risen to the top, but I had “Fett’s” for almost a year or maybe even two before anyone heard it on Sealab. The Internet helped too. I think it was timing: Adult Swim, the Internet boom, the Internet music boom, the Internet comedy boom, and then the geek cultural phenom. All of this, along with nonstop effort on my part, has kinda propelled me.
Though I know you’re probably sworn to secrecy with regard to the gory details, what can you tell us about the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie?
Hell yeah! March 23, 2007. I just found out today I’ll be able to play SXSW and go to the movie premiere there so I’m stoked. I really look at this like my first real movie and I get goose bumps thinking about it. It already means a lot to me. And from what I’ve heard my scene tests well. That's about all I can say. If you were Satan what would you turn me into next?
Halle Berry. I’d be an admittedly bad Father of Lies. ;)
In the past, you’ve been characterized as exhibiting an “aloofness from the nerdcore scene.” Is this criticism warranted?
I definitely created distance and recently regretted that. I saw this piece on Patagonia (the company) and the CEO seemed pretty cool to me. He said that every time he did something for the environment, like using recycled materials to make clothes, it always paid off financially. It struck me. So I decided to not be so worried about things and put my best foot forward. Genre trappings are fun at the height of a fad's popularity, but sometimes it can kill you, limit you creatively, put you in a glass box basically. I did recently do a bunch of research and I saw that a lot of current nerdcore artists mentioned me in the beginning of their stories. And that affected me, I guess. If someone inspired me and then supposedly turned his back on me and my style of music I’d be hurt. So I just tried to speak up a little to both nerdcorehiphop.org and mcchrissource.com (where mcchris.com board members are currently living on sparse rations.) I’m - if you can believe it - really shy and completely introverted; a total retard socially, so I clam up pretty tight outside of blogs. I saw that my not saying anything resulted only in people assuming the worst. So I wanted to speak up and clear things up. So far so good.
Describe your original feelings concerning the phrase “nerdcore hip hop” as a categorization of music. Have such feelings changed? Do you feel a kinship or connection toward other artists within this niche?
It was a word that went from sperm to Andre the Giant without me even noticing, as I was so self-involved. I didn't think much of it. I never thought that's what I was. Back when this all started, I saw everyone respond to “Fett” so then I wrote “Geek,” because I saw that geeks liked me. And I will seriously play to the crowd. I think everything went DIY across the board in the entertainment industry. And when a million kids started to make geek rap I was like, Whoa, what the fuck, this is MY birthday party! But it turns out I wasn't much of nerd compared to Front and YT. So I’ve learned to be myself, and, at the same time, I’ve come to terms with the validity of the genre. As for what I think of this artist or that, I won't play that game, but I will say that people being creative makes me really happy because I know it's bringing that person peace like it's always done for me. If I died tomorrow, I think I could go knowing I got some kids off their asses. And that's cool. As for kinship, it's hard for me feel that with my own family. It's difficult for me to attach to any group. Unless you don't want me in it, then I’m all over it. Like many of you, I’ve just been shit on too many times. I’m loosening up, though, I think.
Do you feel the concept of nerdcore is somehow artistically limiting or constrictive? Likewise, do you ever feel as though you’re unfairly characterized as a “nerd rapper?”
Yes and yes.
With the attention being paid to this unique brand of rap by Newsweek, TIME, Spin, and a myriad of other mainstream publications, do you feel any particular pressure as one of the most prominent and frequently mentioned artist?
Yes. One reason I spoke up is that I felt like I was dealing with the question too much. “What is nerdcore?” “Are you nerdcore?” I think I got my answers down now, but before hand I was like, What? I thought this was an mc chris interview. When I first started touring it was all about Adult Swim, and then it switched over to nerdcore and I just wanted to be noticed for my efforts; I was jealous that these concepts were butting into my interviews, but now that I’ve been able to step back I see that these things make me who I am and it makes it easier for the unaccustomed to give me a chance. Because these are basic concepts they can wrap their head around. I’m happy to completely to pass the buck to Front and YT to be kings. The CEO of Geek Squad said last night, “The geeks will inherit the earth, but they don't want to rule.” That's how I feel about it. Look at nerdcore like The Empire. I’d be Fett. Not a Sith, but some cool shit regardless.
You’ve recently hinted at some performance showcases. Are major labels finally courting mc?
I’ve been meeting with major labels since summer. I’m a strange bird and they don't know what to think of me, but they like my numbers. I’ve met with Sony, TVT, Virgin, Comedy Central Records, Universal, and there's a whole new crop that I’ll be trying to impress in the new year. It's weird. I do feel like a nerd in instances where I’m being judged. I hate the thought of someone looking at me and being like, This ain't rap. I don't get this. I take solace in things like MSI and Hollywood Undead, the fact that there are still fan-fueled phenoms. But yes, I have a showcase on February 13th at Mercury Lounge in NYC. And hopefully soon after that I will have a sense of what 2007 is gonna be like. Some weird stuff may happen, but all I can do is hope my real fans will have faith in my intelligence. It's gotten me this far.
You were present in the trailer for the forthcoming MC Frontalot documentary Nerdcore Rising, but conspicuously absent from the Nerdcore For Life trailer. Given that the genesis of that film was touched off when director Dan Lamoureux attended a particularly impassioned mc chris performance, are fans to deduce that you opted out of an appearance?
I'm ignorant of a lot of stuff going on in nerdcore, the music, the docs. I thought My Parents Favorite Music was some Christian thing till I went through your site and started clicking on the links, and I didn't do that until last weekend. I get lots of requests and sometimes they can overlap. I have new management in place and will probably have new booking before the end of this week. PR will also step up so things like this won't be overlooked. but no a lot of these mc hates me situations are me not even knowing what's going on. Hopefully this will improve in the new year.
Your live shows are often punctuated by crowd-pleasing freestyles concerning video games and geek culture. Exactly how impromptu are these songs?
I don't freestyle. I make rants and sometimes I do something for a second, but, mainly, no. I prepare. The rants in between songs volley between improvisation and scripted bits.
In the track “DQ Blizzard” you describe yourself as “half corn beef and cabbage, half Fred Savage / a better than average rapper with a have-to-have-it habit.” Would you care to amend this description, or is it still fairly accurate?
Despite the fact that most fans know you for your uncanny sense of humor, you often pepper your songs with genuine emotional resonance. Does the inspiration for tracks like “Cookie Breath” and “Arulapragasam” come from real-life experiences and individuals, or are such songs merely concept pieces?
All love songs are Chris Ward songs. Meaning the main character is Chris Ward in the real word. And yes, one of the few things I take with me from my punk days is writing songs about girls. I’ve started on the new album and it's been nothing but thus far.
Do you feel led to contrast your comical writing with more poignant lyricism, or do you simply write what comes to mind?
I think that humor without heart is lost on the audience; it won't resonate. So I think I try to paint the picture of someone sad who likes to escape into fantasy, because it's something I can relate to and I think it's needed. And I use humor and vulgarity to lull the audience into listening to my more corny concepts, like having pride, not being lazy, getting things done, going easy on hard drugs, etc.
You’ve been the subject of several diss tracks of late, but recently you and YTCracker (your biggest detractor) have buried the hatchet. Are we to take it that all is forgiven?
I’ve never been mad. One time a drawing I did of Kurt Cobain and bottle of Robitussin that said "This is what little art boys are made of," got stolen from a student gallery and at first I was bummed, but then I took it as the highest compliment. I’ve been shit on too much to let it burn like it did when I was a kid. So I try, somewhat desperately, to look on the bright side on life.
No. We had no idea what it meant and record labels immediately had me in to ask me how I did it. I just say I try to not just cultivate a fan base, but to maintain it with blogs, contests, and constant interaction, constantly reminding the public that I’m human and flawed, but sometimes really cool shit happens. I’d like to think it gets the idea out there that good luck days happen too.
Do you have any solid plans for your next album? Any plans for a spring/summer tour?
I’m planning on calling it monstercrush. I was leaning towards horror movies and I have the whole skit story mapped out. It's gonna be monster-oriented, but the songs will be all over. I think there will much less video game and weed stuff and no guitars. I want it sound like LAB, to be honest, but I want a richer sound. I may end up having more fun making free stuff because I love samples. I will be touring nonstop this year, more than ever before. So I’m trying to write now in case I can't later. I don't know when I can record it. I don't know what label it's gonna be on, but I’ve started to talking to all sorts of people I’d like cameo, collab, or produce, like Prince Paul, Diplo, Paul Barman, DJ Swamp, Mr. Dibbs, Gerard Way, Todd Barry, Tom Green, Andrew WK. Some people that I want but have yet to get in contact with are Weird Al, Dr. Demento, Jason Mewes, Bill Hader, Reggie, Atom, Ratatat, Terminator X, and Freezepop. What I really want to do is make more music than ever this year. Let god sort'm out.
Do you consider yourself a nerd?
Yes, when people make fun of me or hate on me or whatever. I’m more nerd-lite. Like, I have all three consoles, but I can't get them to talk to my Wi-Fi. I don't know Dr. Who's first name, but I love Stephen King and Runaways. I like looking at the toys at Forbidden Planet every Wednesday, and I look at the expensive Hawkeye stuff with complete and sincere yearning. That's kinda nerdy. I heard Hawkeye is gonna be Ronin next year and I got a boner. Is that weird?
A little, yeah, but also understandable.
I realize that this is a thorny question, but, in your opinion, for whom do you make music?
Myself at first, but then I travel the country and share it. I feel like a song's not done until the entire crowd knows it and we can sing it together. It feels unfinished until the fans get their fingerprints on it. That's why the remix contest is usually a really happy time for me.
I’m sure there will be some out there who read this and summarily call bullshit. Some will, no doubt, feel that mc’s decision to embrace nerdcore – or, rather, his own unique position within that musical landscape – is insincere and opportunistic given the term’s recent graduation to pop culture buzzword. Others still may decry him solely for his ultimate decisions to begin fraternizing with a community that, until recently, had vilified him based as much on assumption as actual evidence. Personally, though, I can’t help but find his words and his actions sincere.
Whether or not mc chris ever truly considers himself a full-fledged member of the nerdcore hip hop community is a matter best left to mc chris. His is not an enviable position to be in, for sure, but he has taken it in stride. And rather than continue dodging a label that may prove inhibiting, he has proudly accepted his role in its development. mc's songs have inspired a throng of young artists to embrace what sets them apart, and this, however counterintuitively, has allowed them to come together.
Though you see his face on t-shirts and hear his voice on the television and (soon enough) the big screen, mc is very much like you or me. He’s a bit shy and socially awkward. He often feels pressure from ill-informed outsiders to conform to edicts and ideas with which he is uncomfortable. Sometimes he’s asked to answer a question or make a statement despite the fact that even he isn’t full-aware of his own opinion on the subject. More than anything, mc understands that being a nerd, an outcast, a pariah, means that you’ll never be able to satisfy everyone.
Nerdcore or not, mc chris is family. Sometimes families fight. Sometimes families disagree on what is the best course of action for the better good. Shit, sometimes members genuinely dislike each other. But, in the end, family is defined not by divergent features, names, or attitudes, but by shared traits, shared history.
Call his music what you will; mc chris is a member of our odd little family. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Gooble gobble, gooble gobble, we accept him, we accept him, one of us, one of us!"