Nerdy rap takes the spotlight

The “Nerdcore” genre came to Philly with hip-hop rapper MC Frontalot.

AlbertHongDamian Hess, 40, titled one of his raps “Nerdcore Hiphop” in 2000 to describe his rhymes full of “nerdy” content.

Apparently, the name stuck.

Now, Hess, the “Godfather of Nerdcore” is a full-time rapper known as MC Frontalot. Beside him, fellow Nerdcore artists Dr. Awkward and Brooklyn-based musician Corn Mo, stopped by Philly last Friday to perform for the promotion of Hess’s new album “Question Bedtime.”

MC Frontalot and Dr. Awkward are just two of the many all around the country who associate themselves with this subgenre of hip-hop that can be about anything from comic-books, to computer coding. All performed as rap music.

Hess came up with the idea for the name “Nerdcore” back in his college radio days listening to bands that would try to create new genres.

“Every band wanted to have their own genre that only described them,” Hess said. “Half of the time they had the word ‘-core’ in them and I just thought the whole thing was ridiculous.”

What had initially started out as a joke soon gave Hess the idea that “this could be something that sparks interest just because it’s called that.”

“So it was almost like a little piece of branding that seemed like a good idea after it had seemed like a joke,” Hess said.

Hess considers the gaining popularity of Nerdcore a collective effort from those before, and after him, in the genre.

“The term ‘Nerdcore’ turning from a comedy idea into a real thing and a whole movement, that’s amazing to me. But it’s not something I did,” Hess said. “That’s what happened because a lot of other people got involved.”

Zilla Persona, a Nerdcore and chiptune artist – music made with sound chips sampled from retro video game consoles – wanted to bring this nerdy music into the spotlight. Formerly a Philadelphia resident, Zilla Persona started an event in the city for this very purpose back in 2010 called Nerdrage that brought local and national Nerdcore hip-hop talent, including MC Frontalot, together for a showcase.

The last Nerdrage was back in 2011 but Zilla Persona assures that “the future will see Nerdrage 3.”

“Nerdrage was started for two reasons,” Zilla Persona said in an email. “Firstly, because I saw that there was not nearly enough representation of nerdy hip-hop, despite [the] Internet telling me that they would like to see more of it.”

“Secondly, because I wanted to be able to showcase fantastic artists in a city that isn’t always willing to give their bar’s stage time to ‘Some Guy From the Internet.’”

Even though the idea of ‘nerd’ is becoming more popular in today’s mainstream culture, Nerdcore still doesn’t get as much attention or recognition as a legit section of hip-hop.

“I couldn’t possibly blame them,” Hess said about skeptics. “It sounds like it’s going to be novelty music when you hear the name of it but there’s an opportunity there to dig a little deeper and see whether or not anything resonates with you.”

With Hess’s influences in underground hip-hop coming from artists like Del the Funky Homosapien and Deltron 3030, he feels that Nerdcore isn’t far from mainstream hip-hop at all.

“There’s been a lot of rap that’s about feeling a little bit alienated or trying to figure out what’s going on with your identity, and I think Nerdcore fits into that,” Hess said.

At the end of Frontalot’s performance about correcting grammar, I shook my head to Corn Mo singing about “new, dirty pants,” and Dr. Awkward rapping about ‘90s cartoons I realized it’s just all music that relates to them, and hopefully the audience.

“Really, that’s the only defining trait of Nerdcore – the subject matter,” Zilla Persona said. “My influences mostly come from growing up with a video game controller in hand, a passionate love for a good cocktail and the enjoyable feeling of a crowd jumping up and down to some heavy thumping bass.”

“I just draw on it to write some hopefully fun music that a lot of folks can appreciate – self-identifying as nerds or not.”

Albert Hong can be reached at

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.