Nerdcore hip-hop is a curious beast. Some of its stars have eschewed the label even as they've built an empire of raps about Star Wars, Legos and giant robots. Others, such as MC Frontalot, love the term so much that they claim they invented the genre.
Though Frontalot, who recently performed here, often receives credit for inventing nerdcore in 2000, dorky rhymes have been around much longer. Run-D.M.C. began rapping about their Adidas in 1986, and Weird Al Yankovic's Amish-themed parody of "Gangsta's Paradise" hit stores a decade later. While Frontalot's uniform - thick glasses, shiny ties and lily whiteness - initially drew some folks to his shows, it's the raps that kept them coming, and the comedy.
But if you're rapping about geek culture and you say you're not nerdcore, what are you? I went straight to the source - MCs Chris and Lars, two of the genre's most popular acts - to find out what it means to be a nerdy rap god in 2011. Both visit the Inferno Sept. 16.
When did you find out you could rap?
Lars: One of my first songs was a Shakespeare poem I turned into a rap when I was 16. I realized that hip-hop is poetry and never looked back.
Where do you see what you do in relation to the term "nerdcore"?
Lars: It's an umbrella term. Like, in 2004, emo bands didn't like being called "emo," but they accepted it. So "nerdcore" is a word that describes what I do, but I don't want to describe myself that way. Nerdcore has a certain removal from hip-hop, too, and the music can be kind of lax. Those are two things I don't ever want to happen to me. I want to be more than nerdcore.
Chris: At the beginning of my career, that word "nerdcore" really incensed me. I couldn't believe there were 100 other people doing the same thing as me. I've grown up a lot since then, and I want all nerdcore artists to know that I'm rooting for them.
How did this change come about?
Chris: I've been to some other countries now, and people call it nerdcore there. A rose is a rose; it doesn't matter what it's called. It's weird when you're making history; it's hard to get perspective sometimes. So just being a part of this particular thing that's happened to rap, that's pretty amazing. To be taken seriously as a musician is really amazing. I never even thought of myself as a musician. A comedian and an actor, sure, but a musician, not so much.
What does it mean to be a nerd in 2011?
Lars: Nerds have power in 2011. There's even a cool factor. Kanye West has called himself a nerd, and being good at something like computers can get you a job. But now more than ever, being a nerd means being passionate about something, which is a really, really good thing.
Chris: To me, what really makes you a nerd is if you've been picked on or made to feel horrible because you're not beautiful enough or strong enough or fast enough. Personally, I think you need to have been pushed around a bit. You need to have been wounded and built back up; that's where the power comes from. Nerds control the Internet in 2011. They're the most powerful force on the globe; they can shut down your credit card.
So there are evil nerds?
Chris: Well, a lot of things have shifted in the nerd world. My hope is that people will just learn to treat each other better. That's a big reason I do what I do.
How else can nerdy hip-hop change the world?
Lars: The thing about hip-hop is that it's educational. It has no qualms about being smart, and that's one of the things I love most about it. So I think hip-hop is becoming the music of intelligence, kind of like jazz was to the beatniks. Hip-hop, whether it's nerdy or not, celebrates all of the creative and world-changing things the brain can do.