The Null Device
This is nerdcore
Nerdcore hip-hop has made it into the Graun
Obviously, that doesn't mean there were only eight people rapping on nerdy themes. Jazzy Jeff was doing just that a full two decades ago, and the lineage runs through MC Paul Barman, Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, various Madlib and Kool Keith projects and even Lupe Fiasco. Yet these aren't nerdcore artists, not least because they never claimed to be; nerdcore, Frontalot tells me, is strictly an "opt-in identity".
In Nerdcore for Life, MC Chris makes a similar point, noting that mainstream hip-hop is getting geekier, to the point where even Jay-Z records now contain references to comic books and superheroes. High-C takes the argument even further: "The whole definition of a nerd is expanding. Everybody in the US uses computers, a great many of them play video games, and comic books are really coming back for adults. So there's a little bit of nerd in us all."
Not surprisingly, nerdcore hip-hop has its critics. Some people think it's all a joke or a parody, and others regard it as inherently racist, being white people mocking black culture for their amusement. That claim, though, is predicated on the assumptions that (a) hip-hop is exclusively black culture and when white people do it, they're appropriating a black identity (which, given that there's a generation of non-Afro-American people who grew up listening to NWA and Public Enemy (not to mention the Beastie Boys) and for whom, hip-hop is pop music, seems a little naïve), and (b) that nerdcore is a joke or gimmick, like a Weird Al Yankovic novelty record or office gangsta Herbert "H-Dog" Kornfeld
, rather than an authentic cultural expression from people within both the hip-hop and geek cultures:
Dan Lamoureux, whose Nerdcore For Life depicts black and Asian as well as white nerdcore artists, responds thus: "I spent more than two years studying nerdcore, and never once did I encounter anyone that I thought was trying to insult or disparage people of another race. The genre is not a parody. A lot of the music is very witty, but the primary goal isn't to make people laugh. I think that the confusion comes from the antiquated and prejudiced assumption that hip-hop is 'black' music and shouldn't be attempted by people of other races. The whole point of hip-hop is that it's supposed to be the voice of the people. It's evolved into a truly global art form, and the music is so ubiquitous that it's even permeated into geek culture."
Indeed, if a key tenet of hip-hop is "keeping it real", then a fantasy obsessive is being less true to the genre by pretending to have more bullet scars than 50 Cent than he is by rapping about Lord of the Rings. Though admittedly, Lords of the Rhymes, who in Nerdcore for Life do exactly that while dressed in Middle Earth costumes, remain on the wrong side of the crucial distinction made in the same film by MC Lars: between being "fun" but still being taken seriously, and being "funny", and hence perceived as a joke.
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