Nerdcore Is One Of the Realest Genres of Rap: Here’s Why
Nerdcore, for the uninitiated, is rap and hip-hop dedicated to geek culture. It comes in many forms. There’s the more hardcore and vulgar stuff about Star Wars from folks like MC Chris, or the raunchy ICP-flavored video game homages put out by Starbomb. Then you get the safer, more family-friendly acts. Adam WarRock is one of my personal favorites, laying down tracks mostly about comic book characters like Star-Lord and Hawkeye, and Mega Ran, who is another video game rapper, but with what I’d call a far deeper approach to the source material.
I’m not going to lie and say that some aspects of nerdcore don’t have a slight cultural-appropriation feel to them, co-opting a primarily black musical form to talk about pop culture that is often white-majority. There’s also geekdom’s larger problem of treating nerd culture as a simulated ethnicity, and that typically makes geek culture think its members have the same societal pressures that birthed hip-hop when, in fact, they were simply picked on in high school.
In the ’90s, hip-hop intersected with nerd culture thanks to jaded Hollywood executives, who did their best to sell stuff by tacking hip-hop on in the same way your dad put on his “cool” shirt when your friends came over. The Simpsons was probably the most egregious use of this, with “Do the Bartman” and “Big Big Trouble,” but my personal favorite remains Deep Blue Sea’s ridiculous hip hop soundtrack, where LL Cool J honestly tries to make us take a song about super-intelligent sharks seriously. Vanilla Ice got pulled into the second Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film, and MC Hammer in the first Addams Family. No one in Hollywood understood why hip-hop was popular, only that it was popular. It was rap for marketing’s sake. Which brings us back to nerdcore as evolution.
Mega Ran didn’t make a whole album about Final Fantasy VII because Square Enix paid him to do it; he made it because Mega Ran really, really likes Final Fantasy VII and wanted to rap about how it made him feel. Starbomb isn’t rolling in Nintendo money. In fact, I’m sort of surprised the House of Mario hasn’t tried to their videos pulled for the way they portray beloved characters.
Nerdcore isn’t popular. Adam WarRock had less than 50 people at a recent show in Houston, and he’s one of the better-known guys. These acts play traditional venues, but they also play comic shops and video game stores. Their audiences are niche and hard to reach, similar to other sub-genres like neo-folk or the more obscure corners of metal.
This gives nerdcore an unexpected legitimacy in hip-hop. For example, Snoop Dogg is a huge True Blood fan, so he wrote a song called “Oh Sookie” and asked if he could come out and film a music video on the set. No one batted an eyelid. I’m not saying traditional rap isn’t still needed. “Straight Outta Compton” is sadly as relevant today as it was when it was released, but it’s nice that rappers can freely nerd out about even a tacky HBO series.