Friday, December 07, 2007

More Nerd News in Brief

Yesterday, while Church and I were goofing off via Gmail, he directed me to this story.

If anyone’s in need of another righteous “fuck you” to Jack Thompson, this is it. Gaming literally saved this kid’s life. And not just gaming: WoW. Yes, World of Warcraft, the crack cocaine of the videogame world.

It just goes to show you that you can develop real world skills practically anywhere. It also goes to show you that moose are dangerous.

Who knew?
  • Renegade cowboy poet: Nerdcore icon Beefy and ‘terny rockers From the Dust (featuring Ryan St. Cameraman) recently appeared in some outtakes from a recent Atomic Town video interview. Somewhere within all this delightful tomfoolery, it was slipped that these two primal forces of the Tri-Cities music scene are toying with the idea of joining forces under the moniker LAN Party. There’s also talk of a song about Unicron. Make it so, sweet baby Jeebus, make it so!
  • Be on Beef’s album: In other Beefy news, Mr. Thompson is currently seeking guest rhymes for a track called “Disconnect” on his forthcoming album Rolling Doubles. The track already features the great YTCracker, so if you’re gonna try and get in on the action, bring you’re A game. Further information can be procured here.
  • Game Music 4 U: GM4A’s winter season compilation has, unfortunately, been postponed to Quarter 1 of next year due to circumstances beyond the control of Anthony and company. Ant says to the participants: “If you can still be part of the compilation, and if you have gotten any closer to a finished track definitely let me know.” Early, late, or right on time, I can't wait to hear this one.
  • The most fun you could possibly have: Church just pointed me toward this piece on my man Baddd Spellah at the Inkling magazine Web site. It’s a very interesting, if brief, sojourn into Spellah’s inner sanctum. More importantly, it reveals that’s he’s currently working with a new artist, MC Jomega. Apparently Santa really did get my letter!
  • RIP Pimp C: On a sadder note, rapper Pimp C, known in wider circles for his work with Jay-Z and to nerd’s as the cat on the hook of YTCracker’s “Shineback,” was found dead in his hotel room earlier this week. He will be missed.
  • Nullsleep’s haircut pwns u: New York chiptune festival Blip Fest recently got some press from ABC News. Church came through with a link to the vid, which you can enjoy here.
  • One of us!: The Wizard Rock community also got some more love from the mainstream this week when MTV released a year-end top 10 list of their favorite Wrock bands. The Wrock community responded with the type of lively (and ultimately fruitless) debate that you’d expect from our fellow nerds.
  • One to grow on: Word also came from Devin of the Wrockers The Owl Post this week that some in the scene are expanding their source material to include other book series. Check out Matt’s recent post at Headphone Sacrament for more info.
  • Another damn holiday: Church would like to remind you all that tomorrow is Pretend to be a Time Traveler Day. I plan to fall into the role of ZX409, an escaped test subject from the North Central Positronic Research and Development wing circa the distant future.
  • Little Miss Can’t be Wrong: Today I’ll leave you with another installment of Little Miss Gamer. This time around she takes on StarTropics, meaning I now know a grand total of 1 person who played that game.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Def by DeeJay

Mixtapes are a lot like Christmas: you never know exactly what you’re gonna get. Sure, there’s stuff you expect – and more often than not the fat guy in the red suit delivers – but there are also surprises. Delightful surprises.

While nerdcore hip-hop has a predilection for compilation albums, the more classic mixtape formula is often overlooked. Thankfully, in recent months, artists like YTCracker, Dual Core, and Metamystiks, Inc. have done their part to bring mixtapes to geeky hip-hop, and they’re not alone.

When nerdcore producer nYgel first started kicking around the idea of making his own mixtape, I was intrigued. Though he was, at the time, fairly new to the scene, a familiarity with some of his previous work gave me faith in both his abilities and his artistic vision. When I was approached a few weeks ago about doing a write-up on the project, I was happy to oblige.

nYgel, you see, is far from your average producer, and the list of contributing artists attached to the project spanned the breadth of nerdcore as we know it. From the get-go, this album promised to be an entertaining and exciting experience. And then, of course, there were the surprises.

  1. "Intro": Sparse, sharp, and commanding, the beat for this track really grabs your attention. The rhymes, unfortunately, while charming, are a little loose, but nYgel never claimed to be a rapper. This one serves its purpose; it gets you excited for what’s to follow
  2. "Revenge (featuring Conyeezy)": Conyeezy, you talk too much! I kid the Conyeezy! ;) Seriously, though, ‘Yeez and nYgel work incredibly very well together, though I could have done with more of Con’s well-paced rhyming and less of the spoken interludes. This is one of nYgel’s beats that unapologetically strays from hip-hop cannon, which was an odd choice for such an early track, but it’s one of his best and the song helps to remind you that this is far from your average mixtape.
  3. "Pretend (interlude)": This is one of those delightful surprises I was talking about. It’s an amazing take on Dance Hall Crashers “Cricket” that throws in what could have easily been an obnoxious house beat, but nYgel manages to make it fit. This is easily one of my favorite things on the album, despite the fact that something sounding suspiciously like the musical hook from Britney Spears’s “Toxic” wafts in a time or two. It’s a weird change of pace from last track, but still an amazing song that plays into the “anything goes” feel of the album.
  4. "Friends (featuring funky49)": This boasts a smooth transition from the previous song, and an amazing beat that’s both exotic and relatable. My long-time home-skillet funky49 loses me a bit on the first verse and chorus (which includes some staggering in the background vox that’s a little distracting), but the second verse is structurally simpler and a lot of fun. nYgel’s subtle switch-up on the beat makes it more so.
  5. "Entendre (featuring Able-X)": The overall tone of this track puts me in mind of the neon Babylon that is Las Vegas by night, which is oddly fitting considering that it features Able-X. The lyrics are well-written and amusing, with my only (minor) gripe being the slightly awkward vocal timing on the little bridge that occurs around 1:16 mark. But even that is more than made up for with the Able-X’s brilliant harmony in the outro. nYgel kept the beat simple, and it plays well against Able’s vocals. This track has a vastly different tone that most of the other tracks on the album, but, again, that reinforces the eclectic nature of the project.
  6. "Def by Deejay (interlude)": Here we find another flawless transition. I’m not sure if nYgel was trying to create a signature track with this one, but that’s exactly what I think he did with this 2 minute wonder. This type of warm, danceable, poppy groove is exactly the kind of sound I feel to be synonymous with him as a producer. Perfectly paced, expertly edited, and really inspiring, I was almost floored when I realized he’d actually used a pitch-altered +44 sample as the basis for this track!
  7. "Burnt Away (featuring Morningstar)": Another slow build-up that really pays off, this track features Morningstar, who are better known as Benjamin Bear and The Artist Formerly Known as Fanatical. Beautifully textured, wholly unexpected, and actually quite beautiful, this is the kind of song that would seem unthinkable on any other mixtape, and I applaud nYgel for taking a chance an including it. It’s an amazing effort from all parties involved.
  8. "Frequency (featuring MC Gigahertz)": Honestly, this one’s a little too thin for my tastes, especially after the dense yet airy Morningstar track that preceded it. It sort of sounds at times as if Gigahertz’s lyrics are sitting on top of the music as opposed to being a part of a greater whole. Despite its visible seams and the fact that this isn’t Gig’s tightest flow, the song is really interesting, lyrically, and genuinely relevant to me as a listener.
  9. "Ridikulous (featuring TG_2005)": TG’s flow is sarcastic and borderline obnoxious at times, but it certainly works, and while it seems a little rushed at times, this song bisects the album nicely. I was actually provided with an early demo of this track featuring another high-profile nerdcore artist, but it works very well in both cases. On the production end, this groove has a vaguely similar feel to the Morningstar track, and I enjoyed the recurring motif.
  10. "Repeat Again (featuring Cyanide Soda and M.C. Shinagami)": This one struck me less as a hip-hop track (due a bit of unsteady meter and wordiness in the verses), but as a more than adequate musically accompanied piece of slam poetry. I’m a huge fan of dub, so the beat appeals to me on a lot of levels. Again, portions of the verses sound more like a poem to me than standard-meter rap, but I actually enjoy that element a lot. The kicked-up-snare-as-cicada sound that floats through from time to time also really interests me.
  11. "32 Bars (featuring IllGill and killsaly)": The intro to this seems a tad long to me, but it really grabs the listener after the dubby wind-down of “Repeat Again.” This beat is a killer, and it boasts a slightly glitchy, almost electro feel that, truthfully, has killsaly’s fingerprints all over it. I instantly knew that this wasn’t nYgel’s production because of the departure, but it totally works within the structure of the album. I’m always a fan of killsaly’s nontraditional layering, and I felt it was a welcome addition to the mixtape as a whole. Gill’s flow only slips on a couple of occasions, but I found the hyper-compressed vocal effect to be a bit distracting. Still. “32 Bars” manages to have a sort of experimental, almost drone-rock vibe that makes it memorable.
  12. "Radio Star (featuring Benjamin Bear)": Great. Really great. This is another instance where proper track placement makes a brilliant song even more so. nYgel fucks with a classic and Ben comes in rapping with that upper register bark that’s become his trademark of late. On an album of short tracks, this one flies by quicker than most, but I enjoy every second of it. I know this is one of nYg’s faves, and it’s one of mine too.
  13. "Take it All Back (featuring Grandmaster Pink)": Strange, sad, haunting, and – dare I say – somber. This is one of the longer, slower tracks on Nature’s Outcasts, but nYgel’s skillful manipulation of the beat’s subtleties and Pink’s undeniable flow make it a fun ride, even if it does sound a bit like Pinky’s rapping to us from beyond the grave. Who’s the other MC? Why it’s my Carolina brother Projekt Zero, who’s not credited in the track title for some reason, but his contribution is admirable as well.
  14. "The Wanderer (featuring Conyeezy)": This trails in expertly from Pink’s track. The song continually grows on me. I dug it when I first heard it, and now, a dozen or so listens later, I’m really in love with it. Admittedly, Conyeezy gets a little preachy (and he does a little more talking), but he really hits his stride vocally and manages to sound compelling, convincing, and concerned. On the production end, the Johnny Cash hook and the understated beat make for a thing of beauty. Despite minor gripes, this is another highlight. It could well have ended the album, but, since it didn’t, rest assured that it’ll end an edition of Radio Free Hipster in the not-too distant future.
  15. "Until the Dust Settles (featuring Sir-Up)": Sir-Up, a man known up to this point for his penchant for rhyming about comics, gets political on this one, while nYg takes us on a musical journey that’s distinctly eastern. Not Ups best flow, but his lyrics are acerbic and undoubtedly unexpected. My only real complaint is the misuse of the word hung, but that’s just the English major in me. ;) [NOTE: Since the writing of this piece, the song's title appears to've been changed to "Operation Desert Rhymes."]
  16. "Last Call (featuring Grandmaster Pink, Conyeezy, YTCracker, Beefy, MC Gigahertz, Sir-Up, funky49, Benjamin Bear)": What’s a mixtape without a posse track? Possibly nYgel’s most stirring and well-paced beat, and certainly the only competent hip-hop track I’ve ever heard that lifts a sample from Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.” Pink and Conyeezy set the tone by starting strong. (This is probably some of Yeezy’s best rhyming to date; you can set your watch by this flow!) Nerdy South icons YTCracker and Beefy bring it just as hard as you’d expect, and MC Gigahertz more than makes up for any missteps in his previous contribution and proves himself to any naysayers. Sir-Up (who comes back with the social conscience) and funky49 (who comes in like the tracks biggest cut-up) bring that crazy Florida wild-style to the forefront, and, as always, they work well together in such close proximity. Ben Bear takes the track home in his own indubitable fashion, and ably caps what’s sure to be the new late-night nerdcore drinking anthem. nYgel manages to take all these lyrical flavors and make them work together in a greater context, even if the track terminates a little too abruptly. I’m not one for overly long songs, but this one keeps my attention and proves undeniably enjoyable.
  17. "Outro (production notes)": nYg comes clean on the creation of the album and really has fun with it. It’s a great way to wrap things up, distinctly personal, and irrefutably good-natured. Not since the first Sublime full-length have I actually enjoyed listening to an album-ending series of stories and shout-outs. Most importantly, I have to thank nYgel for the love he gives to me and Hipster, please!, even if he woefully overestimates my readership!
  18. "Entendre (redux)": In what has become the nerdcore tradition, nYgel’s album doesn’t stop just because it’s done. This weird, glitchy, and tempo-cranked rendition of Able-X’s “Entendre” is a bit more fun than the original, but mostly because even at hyperspeed, Able isn’t quite as fast as Wheelie Cyberman. :)
  19. "In My World (featuring T.Y.T.)": T.Y.T. is nerdcore hip-hop’s answer to Bubba Sparxx, and if that sounds like an insult then you misunderstand me. With an accent, a cadence, a lyrical style, and a flow that’s like no other, the self-professed “the little engine that couldn’t but did it anyway” reminds me of the same simply fact as the great YTCracker: that nerdcore can easily have cross-over appeal. Autobiographical songs are always tough, as they mostly enable artists to wallow in misfortune and overhype their victories, but T.Y.T. tells it like it is, and does so skillfully. nYgel again displays his knack for finding the right beat for the right artist by matching T.Y.T.’s style impeccably. Is it wrong that one of my favorite songs from this album is a bonus track?
  20. "Strongalactic (featuring Beastie Boys)": nYgel cut his teeth doing Beasties remixes, so this is a fitting place to end our musical journey. There are some sharp breaks in this track that I don’t quite understand, but overall it’s loads of fun and a really interesting note to go out on.

It’s incredibly easy to make a bad mixtape and oppressively difficult to make a good one, but nYgel and his rowdy team of musical contributors put in the exhaustive legwork necessary to create the latter. It’s stylistically eclectic, exquisitely produced, and a real joy to listen to.

If there’s an underlying theme or message to this collection, it’s that we, as nerds, are nature’s outcasts, and that all the variety you might find in the natural world is reflected in our individual styles and interests. While the mixtape is an artform that promotes diversity and encourages experimentation, nYgel and company have taken that principle to its logical conclusion. The album jumps effortlessly between hip-hop, house, bastard pop, and a myriad of other genres without so much as a batting the proverbial eyelash.

In doing so, it will surely lose some listeners along the way, but the beauty is that anyone who may feel momentarily disappointed with a verse or track will surely be rewarded for sticking around.

While many musical journeys are linear point-A to point-B affairs, Nature’s Outcasts is a scenic drive through the vast landscape of nerdy music. Sure, there may be the occasional rough detour or flat tire, but the listener will ultimately arrive at the final destination enlightened, refreshed, and alive with the promise of new aural possibilities.

Download the album and experience it for yourself.

“Like the last level on Punch-out, I’m destroying a Mike!”

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Folk ewe

Though I make no bones about the fact that this is far from a personal blog, I do tend to wax poetic about the totally surreal experience of growing up in the rural south. With that in mind, I present you with this delightful slice of life.

While visiting my mother for Thanksgiving I saw this preposterous bit of graffiti on a stop sign in the old neighborhood. My little sister, who still lives on that same mill hill, was nice enough to snap a picture of it for me on her cell phone.

I can only assume the hillbilly hellraiser in question meant to scrawl the expletive “fuck” on the sign. Instead he wrote the significantly less offensive “folk,” which, I suppose, is a homophone if your accent is thick enough.

I weep for the American educational system.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Monday, December 03, 2007

Nerd News in Brief

It’s funny how you can live somewhere for years and somehow totally miss things that must be dreadfully apparent to outsiders. I, for example, have lived in the rural south my entire life, but this weekend I noticed something quite strange.

I spent the bulk of my weekend attending a series of local Christmas parades. I don’t like parades, and neither does the wife, but Li’l X. loves anything involving large groups of wheeled vehicles, so we made our way around the parade circuit strictly for his benefit.

Finally, yesterday, at my third parade in two days, I was struck by an odd realization. The event in question took place in one of our more prominent small towns, and, as such, it had around 100 to 120 floats. (Not bad for such a hillbilly haven.) Yet I noticed a wicked asymmetry with regard to the themes of said floats. Sure, a lot of them belonged to local churches (mostly Baptist), several featured “prominent” regional businessmen and elected officials, and a portion preached the civic pride (and/or football prowess) of area public schools. But somewhere in the neighborhood of 60% of these floats seemed to feature some manner of beauty pageant winner: often times from oddly specific pageants.

I’m talking, like, “Little Miss Junior Greater Podunk Best Smile/Most Photogenic 7th Grade” specific.

Only in the south.
  • Calling all MCs: Church found this at the Wil Wheaton blog. Among other things, it contains 4 lines from a proposed Captain Picard rap. First, we need to lean on him to post the full lyrics. Secondly, one of you cats needs to record it. It's that simple.
  • Midwestern Music Extravaganza: Nerdcore producer extraordinaire nYgel recently mentioned that The Attic in Plainfield, Indiana will play host to a number of geeky acts on January 4th. At 6:00 PM, Former Fat Boys, General Philip Legacy, Id Obelus, Coinslot, and several other nerdy-friendly hip-hoppers/indie rockers will gladly rock your socks for an extremely reasonable price. For $8.00 you get to enjoy all this musical goodness, or you can pay $15.00 and both get into the show and score an all-night pass to Mission Control Gaming Center (who’ll be hosting various gaming contests). Thankfully, nYg will be there to tape the event for those of us unable to attend.
  • And sometimes Y: nYgel has also reminded me that his long anticipated mixtape Nature’s Outcast is slated for release tomorrow, December 4th. I’ve received a pre-release copy, and should be posting my thoughts on the disk shortly thereafter.
  • Cover me: Also on the new release front is a fully remastered version of Able-X’s cover album Cover Fire Vol. 1. I missed the album the first time around (as I’d recently collapsed from exhaustion after compiling HP’s own covers compilation), but I’ve not made the same mistake this time. Check it out and relive the glory days of 80’s synth-pop in the nerdiest manner possible.
  • VGM meets seasonal singles: If you’re in the market for a track that’s both game rock and uniquely appropriate for the holiday season, why not take a listen to The OneUps Christmas classic “Super Mario's Sleigh Ride” arrangement. When that fat Italian stereotype stuffs his Koopa-stompin’ ass down your chimney, you’ll be glad you did.
  • Poor Chozo: In less cheerful news, nerdcore MC and INFO2k8 mastermind Chozo Ninpo recently returned home to find his studio sacked and his recording equipment stolen. According to Chozo, local authorities “believe they know who did it, but were honest and said they probably couldn't prove it.” Here’s hoping your insurance company comes through for you, brother.
  • Back to the crunchy weirdness: The de facto queen of J-nerdcore, the incomparable Rai Kamishiro, has at long last established a presence on MySpace! She’s uploaded some demos from her new album (due late ’07 or early ’08) for fans to enjoy, and Matt also found this… um… interesting track linked from her LJ. I’d love to provide some context for this, but I simply can’t; I’m as in the dark as the rest of you. Juts chalk it up as another delightful oddity from Rai!
  • The gift that keeps on giving: mc chris just announced that his December 28th show at Jackrabbits in Jacksonville, FL will be free thanks to “the folks at Agency Group and Tim.” While the details are a bitch sketchy at present, mc promises that up to 300 fans can see the show free-of-charge. What a bargain!
  • All through Wayne Manor: And since we’re all entering the season of giving/perpetual shopping, we’ll wrap things up with a jewel that Church found called “Twas The Dark Knight Before Christmas.” Superhero angst and holiday cheer? Surely nothing can be more grand.