Monday, April 30, 2007

Top 10 Nerdcore Artists of all Time

With all that's happened within the sphere of Nerdcore Hip Hop over the past year, I thought now would a good time to take a look back on the landscape of geeky rap and those major players who have populated this strange and very often misunderstood world of beats, rhymes, and… dice.

This list, of course, is not solely my own; it's a compilation of the ideas and opinions of many nerdcore fans and some of the artists themselves. Special thanks go out to Dan Lamoureux, director of the upcoming Nerdcore For Life documentary; Gabriel of Nerdcore News; the fans, musicians, lurkers, and mildly interested passersby over at Rhyme Torrents; and friends of Hipster, please! who spread the word about the project.

And now that all the formalities are out of the way: on with the show.

10. UltraklystronUltraklystron
Karl R. Olson's lyrics are such a beautiful tangle of otaku imagery and slice-of-life recollections that one sometimes has to stop and ponder exactly how deep his metaphors run. Is each track, on one level or another, a personal account? Does each Ultraklystron song contain a single player that signifies Karl himself? Are all characters – like some hokey dream interpretation rubric – a figurative embodiment of Ultraklystron? Despite all the questions, all these lines blurred between straight narrative and alliterative impressionism, Ultraklystron manages to deliver a unique brand of nerdcore that is both satisfying and enlightening, even to the non-otaku constituent.

Visit - Listen - Watch - Befriend


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9. Futuristic Sex RobotzFuturistic Sex Robotz
With the release of their 2006 free-to-download album Hotel Coral Essex, Futuristic Sex Robotz burst onto the fledgling nerdcore scene with an eclectic sound that preached the glory of marathon gaming sessions and recalled the golden age of the BBS. Coaxke, PC Speaker, BonzoDog, Recycle Bin, and Subrandom traded verses over cleverly crafted hooks incorporating everything from movie samples to Motherboard's own silky-smooth vocals. The result was a cohesive release that dwarfed the output of all but the most established acts of the age.

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8. MC RouterMC Router
MC Router proudly calls herself The First Lady of Nerdcore, and few would disagree. Whether backed up by her longtime collaborator T-byte, her Mediocre Tour ally Doctor Popular, or any other of a rotating cast of characters, Router's unmistakable voice and in-your-face disposition uniquely color any track she touches. Recently, MC Router has become one of nerdcore's most talked-about artists, garnering attention from the media at every turn. With her longtime feud with Nursehella squashed and a new release in the works, MC Router is both an important part of nerdcore's past and of its continued evolution.

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7. MC HawkingMC Hawking
Stylistically situated somewhere between the educationally caustic rap of MC Paul Barman and the comical mimicry of Dread Zeppelin lies MC Hawking. Web developer Ken Leavitt-Lawrence adopted the persona of this foul-mouthed, hard living parody of famed theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking in the early 2000s, and in doing so helped to define nerdcore in its earliest stages. Though the Hawkman is less musically active now that nerdcore hip hop has blossomed into a full-fledged movement, his influence, impeccable comic timing, and robotic flow are still remembered and admired.

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6. MC LarsMC Lars
MC Lars calls his style “post-punk laptop rap,” but it bears all the earmarks of nerdcore. Lars effortlessly blends roots hip hop with the musical spirit of punk rock in a manner that produces both head-bobbing studio tracks and frenetic live sets. With a lyrical style that owes as much to classic literature as it does the modern sensibility of a man steeped in the digital age, his songs handily create the soundtrack for the lives of college students everywhere, whether they realize it or not.

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5. BeefyBeefy
Beefy, Keith A. Moore, His Beefyness, and, most recently, Beef Thompson are just some of the names ascribed to Pasco, Washington 's resident rhyme slinger. With a healthy ego, a grocery list of nerd cred, a love for rap, and talent to spare, Beefy manages to make tracks about Chun-Li, comic books, and heartbrokenness seem equally weighty. Perhaps more than any other artist, Beefy embodies the spirit of 2nd gen nerdcore: he proudly wears his influences on his sleeve without ever sounding hackneyed or overly referential. With his previous release Tube Technology still fresh in the minds of his fans, Beefy is already hard at work for a projected June release of its follow-up Fighting Crime.

Visit Listen Watch Befriend


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4. Optimus RhymeOptimus Rhyme
Optimus Rhyme are the Elvis Costello and the Attractions of nerdcore hip hop; they contribute to the strength and legitimacy of the movement by simply doing their own thing and wholly refusing to sound like anything or anyone else. Stumblebee, Powerthighs, Grimrock, and Wheelie Cyberman (occasionally aided by fellow Seattle MC Broken English) bring a mixture of rap, funk, and sci-fi storytelling the likes of which can't be adequately explained in this constricted communiqué. Their Jack Endino-produced School the Indie Rockers is, without a doubt, the most polished and professional nerdcore release to date, and their live shows are the stuff of legend.

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3. mc chrismc chris
mc chris is surely the unlikeliest of heroes, but there's clearly no other way to describe him within the context of nerdcore. At odds with the classification from the start, mc recently realized that, while he may not consider himself a part of nerdcore hip hop proper, his influence and inspiration have helped to shape the landscape like no one else. Many fans first became aware of the concept of geek rap through his work on Adult Swim's Sealab 2021 and Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and many artists cite his seminal Life's a Bitch and I'm Her Pimp among their early nerdcore influences.

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2. YTCrackerYTCracker
The battle for the number one spot on this list was, from the get-go, a two horse race. It can truthfully be said that YTCracker's fans are a rabid legion, and, consequently, it's hard to hear YT – or to see him perform live with his Spamtec group-mates – without becoming a fan. With a style that's equally accessible to nerds and non-nerds alike, a writing credit on Too $hort's 2003 release Married to the Game, an impressive list of DJ and performance credentials, and a celebrated hacker past, YTCracker is a big fish in the small pond with his sites set firmly on the ocean. Interested parties are encouraged to sample his freely downloadable 2005 album Nerdrap Entertainment System, but save room for the main course: 2006's Nerd Life.

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1. MC FrontalotMC Frontalot
MC Frontalot was not the first geek to turn to music as a creative outlet. He wasn't even the first dork to bust rhymes. And when he coined the phrase “Nerdcore HipHop” in 2000, it's doubtful that he actually intended to craft a term for a style of music that would launch its own mini cultural awakening. Yet this ironic, self-deprecating description of his own style became a rallying cry for nerds everywhere. Featured in video games, honored in comic books, undefeated at Song Fight!, and praised by nerd culture prophets Gabe and Tycho, MC Frontalot showed the world that that rap and nerd life were not only compatible, but congruent.

Of course, this list would not be complete without acknowledging at least a handful of the other notable artists who merely skirted inclusion in the above. And, with that, Nerdcore Superlatives:

The Lifetime Achievement Award for Exemplary Musical Nerdiness: Baddd Spellah
Baddd Spellah is admittedly not nerdcore, but his unique production style has left fingerprints across the breadth of the musical community. Through his work with MC Frontalot, his masterful remixing of artists like mc chris, and his own solo work, Baddd Spellah has left an indelible impression on the sound of nerdcore hip hop.

Visit Listen Befriend


Ultimate Nerdy Musical Collective: Emergency Pizza Party
EPP, either by design or simply necessary function, encompasses a staggering array of Florida nerdcore artists: from founding members Betty Rebel, MC Wreckshin, and Sir-Up to new additions Jeff MK, Benjamin Bear, and Fanatical to unofficial associates like Signed Long Int and funky49. Their collaborative style is astounding, and the sheer number of participants guarantees that everyone will find something to their liking.

Listen Befriend


Most Important Beef: MC Plus+ vs. Monzy
Though thoroughly fabricated, the conflict between these two CS Gangstas attracted attention to both their own musical undertakings and the concept of nerdy rap itself. Nerdcore owes a great debt to these two programmers/PhD students.

MC Plus+: Visit Listen Befriend
Monzy: Visit Listen


50% Nerd, 50% Hip Hop: Metamystiks Inc.
Demonstrating a style much more akin to the conscious alt-rap of Jesse Dangerously than the rapid-fire geekery of Lords of the Rhymes, DJ Snyder, myf, and Super Dragon X are a trio of musicians separated by geography, but flawlessly united by a shared passion for music. There style is adequately described as both nerdy rap and rap that just happens to be produced by artists with nerdy predilections.

Listen Befriend


New Artist to Watch: Zealous1
Zealous1 was thrilled with the discovery that his life-long love of music and poetry seamlessly melded into the nerdcore style. In the short time he has been actively involved in the scene, Zealous has managed to cultivate tremendous fan support and a reputation for excellence. His album Collaboc1de, literally packed with special guests, is a testament to his love for nerdcore and its ardent reciprocation.

Visit Listen Befriend




22 comments:

ChurchHatesTucker said...

Nice to see the final list is pretty close to my own. I had Shael and Nursehella, but Router and YT are equally deserving.

Actually, it's a testament to the scene that there is more than enough talent out there for a list like this.

Z. said...

Oh yeah, there were a lot of great artists who got left out, but I reckon such is the nature of the beast. Shael, Doc Pop, MPFM, FFB, and tons of other folks really deserved some love. I tried to work as many names into the piece as possible, but in the end I knew I couldn’t include everyone.

Antisocial said...

Finally, a top ten list I can agree with. I was a little surprised about the lack of MC++, but I'm not a huge fan of his recorded style (from what I hear from Beefy, his live sets are much better). That said, I think that "Chip Hop Nerd" is about the coolest song ever. Monzy, on the other hand, sounds somewhat better, but suffers from the same problems that have plauged Nursehella, and to a greater degree Lil Nix: a sexy body, but not much material.

Dan said...

That's a hell of a good list if I do say so myself. Great work Z!

Z. said...

Thanks for the comments, Soc. Lists like this are always difficult because, at the end of the day, it’s all about individual opinion. I was surprised by a few things myself, but I have to say that I’m really happy with the list overall. Every artist within the sphere of nerdcore brings his or her own unique elements to the table, and that makes things of this nature really difficult to quantify.

Thanks for all your help in wrangling up pictures and videos, Dan. I really appreciate all your support of Hipster, please! and nerdcore hip hop.

Geof said...

As with any top 10, there're a couple in there (and not in there) I might list differently, but overall, hells yes that's a great list. Good idea with the sample tracks too - "Now That's What I Call Nerdcore"

In fact, I'd say this post'd make an excellent place to direct people to when spreading the gospel, and I believe I shall do just that later this week.

Z. said...

Thanks, Geof. That’s really what I was going for: sort of a rough jumping-off place for folks beginning to get interested in nerdcore. Glad to know I succeeded.

Anonymous said...

wheres b bear??? come on!

Tha Mike said...

No offense to anyone on this list, but I wiff a hint of this list being biased towards certain people.

I will say 3 of the top 5 are correct.

Beefy said...

That's kind of a dick thing to say tha mike. If you're implying that Z wasn't honest that makes you an asshole. People voted for their favorites and if you want to accuse an artist of maybe being too popular that's fine by me, but to imply that Z is a liar is bullshit. Step up and say who you don't agree with being on the list. Don't accuse Z of being biased because someone you're a fan of didn't get enough votes. Having your own opinion is more than acceptable and encouraged and you had your vote, but don't even partially accuse the person who composed the list of not doing it fairly when you have nothing to base it on.

-Beefy. Always making friends.

Antisocial said...

I second Beefy, and not just as a loyal member of F7. If Z wanted to promote his own top ten, he wouldn't have taken so long to do so. The artists that made the list did so because they are popular.

ChurchHatesTucker said...

I'm going to chime in again in defense of Z. I believe I'm the only one to question his methodology before the fact, and yet even I was satisfied that he was ultimately doing what I would have done in his place (just that I thought he was doing it the hard way.)

And I will say that just the discussion of who should have been and who should not have been on the list is valuable in itself. I left off YT, and I realize that it was just because I hadn't listend to him in a while. I included 'Hella, but largely because I had gotten lots of positive feedback from non-nerdore people about her whenever I played her. (She spent a week going on and off of my list. I'm sure her ears were burning.)

To sort of loop the discussion back to where it should be: good on ya' Z, for giving us a spot to point n00bs at the genre. And hey, if you think there's anyone that deserves extra mention (YT, Nursehella, RPG, Zealous1, etc.) well, then mention them. Folks will be digging through these comments for a while.

Oh yeah, =/F7\=

Router said...

z biased? thats horseshit if ive ever heard it.

i havent even barely talked to z in liek forever.
if he was biased he woulda put someone on there who he was better friends with.

besides ppl voted. and z and dan are good men.

<33


router

ChurchHatesTucker said...

What Router said. Talk about who should or shouldn't have been on the list, fine, but don't impune Z for skewing it. That shite just didn't happen.

(And yeah, now feeling extra bad for leaving off Router. But Shael (IMHO) needed to be on there. Aw crap, why couldn't it have been a baker's dozen?)

Router said...

its okay you left me off. alot of people did.
but im not hurt.

infact, i didnt even dream of making that list..

im still not sure why..

but it makes me feel real neat.

Geof said...

@Tha Mike: I'm curious, what would your top 5 be? Personally I wouldn't have - and didn't - rank OR as highly, but I don't think their final position was because of bias, but just because my opinion is just mine and others apparently don't share it. Which is cool.

Karl said...

I'd have to say that the only thing questionable about that list is my presence on it. ;) Otherwise, I'd say it's exactly what I'd expect out of a nerdcore top 10 at this point, particular a top 10 that's drawn largely from the nerdcore artist community.

Z. said...

Honestly, there’s no way this list wouldn’t be biased in one way or another. No matter how many people voted or how I weighed the results, some folks just weren’t represented as much as they rightfully should’ve been. The fact that Jesse Dangerously didn’t get more love is, in my opinion, a gross oversight. There are also a number of highly creative, incredibly influential people, like Doc Pop and Shael Riley, whom I believed suffered simply because nerdcore isn’t their sole arena of musical endeavor.

Bottom line: I realized going into this that a lot of people – me, first and foremost – weren’t going to agree 100% with the results. Everyone ascribes a different level of importance to individual artists, and it’s hard to rectify this within the scheme of a few friends talking over drinks, much less the hundreds of people involved in this project.

In the end, I got a lot of input from fans old and new through channels public and private. The above list was the general consensus. And while it leaves off a few of my personal favorites (and under-represents some of those who made the cut), I think that the artists presented are all very talented and ultimately deserving of praise.

And Geof is right: if I’d’ve ranked Optimus Rhyme based solely on my personal bias they would’ve clinched the top spot. :D

aj said...

Umm tell me if i'm alone on this but does anyone else think that STD should at least get an honorable mention. Otherwise great list.

Z. said...

Agreed, AJ, but sadly waaaaaaay back when I did this piece STD wasn't as familiar to many of the nerdcore faithful as he is now. :(

Stiborge said...

This list feels a bit dated. You should do an updated version sometime.

Z. said...

This one has got some age on it, Stiborge. Perhaps I'll revisit the concept again, but I'll likely do so on a larger scale (ie: the 10 Greatest Nerd Musicians.)