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Nerdcore mixes geek culture with hip-hop

Cassandra Khaw | May 6, 2013
Henry Bowers, a rapper born in Sweden, cuts an intimidating figure. Dreadlocks stream from beneath his black beanie, merging into the gargantuan beard he wears. He looks like a modern-day viking, teeth bared as he snarls an answering rhyme to his opponent.

"Nerdcore to me is just about showing people other ways people have fun," Hiimrawn shrugs, before adding glibly, "I love getting into costume and playing pretend. I'm a big kid."

Though they allude to Silent Hill or '80s cartoons in their lyrics, some artists haven't entirely embraced the nerdcore label. Henry Bowers certainly hasn't. "I would definitely say that there are elements of what you call 'nerdcore' in my music," Bowers says. "I love to spice up my lyrics and my battle verses with references to pop-culture; and among these references you'll find a lot of geeky stuff like characters from video games and cartoons and such. But since it's only one of many ingredients I use, I wouldn't go so far as to say that I do full-on nerdcore."

Bowers, a slam poet widely recognized as one of Sweden's best hip-hop acts, was quick to note, however, that he does occasionally revel in writing songs overloaded with nerdy references; Bowers points to a track in a previous album as an example of this: "On the album I'm working on at the moment, I have a track where I only rhyme on names that in some way are related to horror fiction. Starting off with a reference to the video game Silent Hill--spooky s**t, like 'Alessa Gilespie when/all messed up on mescaline, molestin' pedestrians.'"

Not everyone's a fan

Like any other music genre, nerdcore has drawn criticism from outsiders. Detractors have decried it as everything from repulsive to simplistic to "too damn white." In a Penny Arcade thread from 2008, one forum user undertook to dismantle MC Frontalot's "Rhyme of the Nibelung" in an attempt to illustrate the differences between nerdcore and (arguably) "genuine" hip-hop.

Too simple. Too stiff. Too literal. "There are no double meanings, there are no creative metaphors, no slang, just straight forward rhyming words," the forum user grouses.

The disdain and resentment that nerdcore elicits in some quarters has not gone unnoticed by the subgenre's practitioners. In "Nerdcore Hiphop," MC Frontalot raps about how other artists shy away from an association with him, frightened at how it might reflect on them.

Nonetheless, nerdiness is far from scarce within the the larger field of hip-hop. As Bowers observes in an email interview:

"Most rappers I know and like are extremely nerdy, though some might disguise it more than others. Especially battle rappers seem to have a tendency to be really nerdy if you look at the content of what they spit. They might look (and even be) hard and rough on the outside, but their impressive range of knowledge of nerdy stuff like sci-fi and cartoons is often showing in their punchlines and word plays."


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