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Nerd Hip-Hop, Flowing Like Han Solo


This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Not long ago, `nerd' and `geek' were slurs hurled at social outcasts in schools. But the information age has changed that a bit. `Geek' and `nerd' are the names preferred now by many cyberspace hobbyists and professionals. Not content to limit their influence to the virtual world, the geek community is expanding now its reach into hip-hop. From member station WNYC, Jim Colgan reports.

(Soundbite of "Fett's Vette")

MC CHRIS: (Rapping) My backpack's got jets. I'm Boba the Fett. Well, I bounty hunt for Jabba Hutt to finance my 'Vette.

JIM COLGAN reporting:

MC Chris was a cartoonist until he left to do this kind of music full time. Fans are calling it nerdcore, and sometimes even the artists have trouble with the geek references.

MC CHRIS: I don't get a lot of the jokes. So it's like if you write a song about love, you write a song about heartbreak, you're going to reach more people. But if you write a song about, you know, different consoles that you play video games on, you might lose a couple people.

COLGAN: Chris is one of its biggest acts. MC Hawking is another, and for his nerdcore persona, he mimics the synthesized voice of the real Stephen Hawking.

(Soundbite of song)

Backup Singers: Yeah, you know me.

MC HAWKING: (Rapping) Who's down with entropy?

Backup Singers: Yeah, you know me.

MC HAWKING: (Rapping) Who's down with entropy? Defining entropy as disorders not complete...

COLGAN: While these rappers aren't exactly living the life of Jay-Z or other mainstream hip-hop stars, some are starting to make five-figure salaries thanks to album and T-shirt sales. Hawking has high hopes for their success.

MC HAWKING: I think it can be pretty big. I mean, there are a lot of nerds out there.

(Soundbite of song)

MC FRONTALOT: (Singing) ...'cause I've got something for you. It is shiny; it is clean. Come on up and I'll adore you with my yellow laser beam.

COLGAN: And then there's New York-based MC Frontalot. He coined the `nerdcore' term five years ago, and since then, a growing number of lyrically adapt geeks have laid claim to their own kind of subgenre.

MC FRONTALOT: It's like I don't have diamonds or, you know, I'm not tough, I'm not comfortable hollering loudly about how cool I am.

COLGAN: The music may sound like hip-hop, but Frontalot says the nerds' choice of lyrics sets it apart.

MC FRONTALOT: You know, sometimes I'll slip and hit my head in the shower. And when I wake up, it's, like, `Oh, let's write a song about different kinds of bridges from that PBS special that I saw recently.'

(Soundbite of song)

MC FRONTALOT: (Rapping) The beam bridge(ph) seeming to be the bridge spanner all manner of planks gets employed in the...

COLGAN: Most of the music is about embracing a nerd's identity, but not all of the artists are happy with the square connotations. Rapper MC Paul Barman is revered by fans of nerdcore, but in a Manhattan park while on a break from recording his next album recently, he derided the label.

MC PAUL BARMAN: It's just another fake genre; house music, trip-hop, indie rap, mainstream. I'm looking for excellent lyricism and dopies.

COLGAN: But in reality, Barman's approach sounds a little nerdy, like the research he did for this song about oil.

MC PAUL BARMAN: Well, I interviewed Paul Roberts, the author of "The End of Oil." I translated his entire book into the rhyme.

(Soundbite of music)

MC PAUL BARMAN: (Rapping) ...(Unintelligible), then it might have changed to hydrocarbons then mixed with other elements as top layer settled in. Top rockets held the cap. Oil and gas got trapped. Now businessmen search for new veins to tap.

COLGAN: Nerdcore's fate as a true genre is still uncertain, and though these artists don't exactly have the street cred of most rappers, Frontalot says there's nothing wrong with using hip music for a geek message.

MC FRONTALOT: We love rap music. We wish we could be like real rappers, but we're stuck with who we are. And we do what we do for that reason.

COLGAN: In the meantime, these nerds will continue to make hip-hop their own. Jim Colgan, NPR News, New York.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Rapper: Nerdcore could rise up; it could get elevated. Ooh, and wouldn't all those tough rappers hate us?

CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. Stay with us on DAY TO DAY from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jim Colgan