Nerdcore: hip-hop for rhyming geeks

By Jamillah Knowles, Chris Vallance
Reporters, BBC Radio 5 live's Outriders

media captionMC Frontalot raps about his career in Nerdcore

The terms "nerd" and "geek" are not names traditionally associated with the stylised and egocentric world of hip-hop.

But now musicians are giving them a makeover in a form of music known as nerdcore.

"Nerdcore is like every other sort of hip hop, just considerably less cool," said MC Frontalot, one of the founding fathers of the scene.

The subject matter stands in contrast to that traditionally explored in hip-hop, he explained.

"Topics include video games, science fiction, dungeons and dragons, but the deeper themes also look at feelings of alienation, paranoia and inadequacy that must always be battled in order to leave your apartment."

Geek chic may have become de rigueur with the fashionistas but MC Frontalot believes that becoming a real nerd is based on childhood experience.

"A nerd is someone who was conditioned as they were growing up to think that he or she didn't have the ability to fit in socially.

"Most of the time that's because we were smart."

Rappers delight

However, proponents of the genre are keen to point out that not all geeks are cut from the same cloth.

"In the Venn diagram of geekdom, you become a geek by association," said Adam WarRock, who left his job as an attorney to become a full time rapper.

One of his first singles addressed the tendency to assume that all geeks have the same interests.

"All of my friends love Doctor Who but I have never seen it. I have nothing against it but people seem surprised because I'm a geek, but not that sort of geek."

Nerdcore MC MadHatter McGinnis thinks that geekdom is simply becoming more mainstream.

"My personal take is not that nerdcore is getting big but that the whole world population are becoming nerds," he said.

"My three-year-old daughter will exceed my computer skills; nerds run the defence systems for the country. I think the music is appealing to these themes."

Some have noted that the themes of nerdcore and hip hop rap rarely overlap.

However, some argue that nerdcore like grassroots hip hop is all about keeping it real.

"The origins of hip-hop were about politics, community, survival and entertainment," said MadHatter.

"Today hip hop is not really about that anymore. You have people on the radio talking about the yachts they own and the people they shoot and none of that is real.

"But people rapping about programming languages or role-playing games; that is all real.

"It's people rapping about what they really are. That's more hip-hop than anything you hear on the radio."

Internet bridge

However, one thing that does tally with mainstream rap music is that female performers are in the minority.

image captionCanadian performer Nursehella, one of the few female nerdcore artists

"There's not a lot of girls - I think I am the only one in Canada," said Nursehella, an MC from Canada.

She puts the lack of female artists down to the confidence needed to stand up and rhyme in public.

"If girls who are nerdy can rap and write rhymes, that's great. They also need to have the confidence to sing them and record something, those puzzle pieces are a bit harder to find and fit together."

But for budding artists, there is support amongst the musicians, who view each other as peers rather than rivals.

"It's one of the most supportive subgenres I have come across," said MadHatter. "We make music at our house. We set up studios because we are proficient with computers and know how to make it all work."

He said a lot of the musicians have made songs together but have never met each other.

"That's where the internet steps in," he said.

"We may not have been picked first for dodge ball or at the high school dance but we reach out across the internet to work together without even leaving the house."

You can hear more about nerdcore in this week's edition of Outriders.

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