If you havent heard of nerdcore, youre not alone. And chances are, youre not a nerd. But the movement has seen a notable increase in popularity of late, largely thanks to the man widely considered to the hip-hop sub-genres progenitor, MC Frontalot. The pocket-protector-clad rapper is the subject of a new documentary film entitled Nerdcore Rising that has set the geekiest corners of the Internet abuzz.
SEVEN DAYS: So . . . what the hell is nerdcore?
NEGIN FARSAD: Nerdcore hip-hop is basically geeks rapping about geeky things like video games and Dungeons & Dragons and, like, algorithms for security encryptions. You know, everyday geeky things.
SD: What prompted the documentary?
NF: I went to a [MC Frontalot] show. It wasnt a terribly well populated show. But the fans who were there were unbelievably excited. They had traveled hours. These two fans, I remember in particular, traveled from Buffalo to NYC to see this show and they were fans of MC Frontalot since his first free mp3s on his data website . . . When I went up to talk to them, they were in the midst of an argument about a particular card in Magic: The Gathering. I was like, Oh, my God. This has got to be the only hip-hop club in the contiguous 48 states where this particular argument is happening.
Meeting those types of folks made it clear to me that there was a movement. That it was something to film and that fans could really anchor this documentary.
Sure, the music is great and its fun. And the rapping is great and all that stuff. But that kind of doesnt matter. A lot of bands have great music . . . It was really the quality of the fans that made the whole venture seem film-worthy.
SD: How big a phenomenon is nerdcore?
NF: When we started, MC Frontalot used to throw around the term 30 thousand fans. It still remains unknown because it is an Internet phenomenon. You could track how many unique visitors you get. You could track album sales. You could track how many people come to the shows.
His first tour, there were moments when he was performing for, like, 10 people, in the beginning. But I would never be able to go to a town like Johnson City, Tennessee, and have 10 people give a fuck about me. So, in that sense, it really was obvious to me that it was a movement, even in that early stage.
I think the film has had something to do with his increasing fame and the word getting out about nerdcore. When we put out the trailer, [it] happened to have some celebrities [Weird Al Yankovic, Jello Biafra] . . . so it kind of, as they say, went viral. Now, MC Frontalot isnt the only nerdcore artist touring. A lot of his little disciples are touring. Theres some peeps out there.
SD: Hes the Dr. Dre of nerdcore.
NF: (Laughs.) He really is! Its funny. They really look up to him.
SD: Are there levels of nerdcore cred?
NF: You know, MC Frontalot would never engage in such considerations, I think. Because its the antithesis of the notion of nerdiness, and the guiding philosophy behind nerdcore is that its inclusive rather than exclusive.
SD: People are pretty passionate about what is and isnt hip-hop, so how is nerdcore received in hip-hop circles?
NF: We interviewed J-Live and Prince Paul and they were really, like, kind about nerdcore. Not that they had heard of it before or were aficionados of it. But one of the things that Prince Paul noted in the movie is that hip-hop is about being honest to who you are. And these nerdcore guys are doing just that. If youre excited about the fourth edition of the new Dungeons & Dragons and thats what youre going to rap about, then thats being true. And thats hip-hop.
Im gonna be honest: I tried to get an interview with 50 Cent. I tried to get an interview with Jay-Z. Theyre super-duper famous, so you cant just interview them because you want to . . . I didnt speak to anyone more squarely within todays rap proclivities, so its hard to say what those guys would say. But of the venerable old-school hip-hop folks, nerdcore was well received.
SD: It seems like it would be pretty easy to dismiss nerdcore as a gimmick. Do you think the rappers honesty lends the genre some degree of legitimacy?
NF: Its interesting. The film centers on MC Frontalot and hes backed up by this three-piece band . . . but theres a couple of bands out there, they plug in an iPod with a beat on a loop and they rap to it. And thats kind of how it goes.
The movie will definitely show you that MC Frontalot is not a novelty act, because, musically, you cant deny that his band is composed of musicians. There might be some other nerdcore acts out there that might be dismissed as such. Maybe it seems that theyre parodying rap music rather than actually engaging rap music.
The question is raised whether or not nerdcore is a misappropriation of black culture. And I think there are nerdcore rappers who are guilty of that. I dont think MC Frontalot is one of them. And I think as long as [nerdcore rappers] continue to respect hip-hop rather than parody it, theyll be just fine.
Nerdcore Rising premieres at Palace 9 in South Burlington, Sunday, May 4, 7 p.m. Admission is $8, which benefits the Vermont International Film Festival. The screening is sponsored by cable access stations VCAM and RETN. Says organizer Bill Simmon, "Nerdcore Rising is exemplary of the kind of DIY digital filmmaking that VCAM & RETN try to promote and teach to citizens and students in the greater Burlington area." Click here for more info.