Friday, May 20, 2011

The New Sincerity

It's clobberin' rhymes!
Rapper Adam WarRock won me over as a diehard fan with the proverbial quickness. His lyrical dexterity, fearsome yet reserved flow and penchant for comic book allegory got me hooked, but it is his unprecedented prolificacy that truly keeps me coming back. Since the release of his debut full-length The War for Infinity, Adam has made comic shop rap a common occurrence with a steady stream of regular freebie selections disseminated through his site's TrackLog. These have been punctuated at irregular intervals by larger, more cohesive works typically centered thematically on his own favorite comic publishers or properties.

Not bad for a cat that's only been doing the full-time musician thing for a year.

WarRock's latest is an oddly introspective affair that pairs him with producer (and fellow Radio Free Hipster regular) Dale Chase. Though smaller in size and scope than his previous Bandcamp release, it is still somehow no less enjoyable, impactful or insightful.

This Man... This Emcee kicks off with one of Dale's soulful, breezy beats in the track "Marvel vs. DC." Despite a slight lyrical stumble out of the gate, Adam comes through with an impassioned plea for broader peace and understanding that masquerades as a simple deconstruction of fanboyism. "New Sincerity" switches things up slightly with thickly layered production and speedier rhymes that combine to make it an instant triumph. My only knock against it is the singular bout of navel-gazing that seems to involve Adam's recent adoption as a poster boy of the nerd music movement.

Oddly enough this theme continues, though in a slightly skewed manner, in follow-up "Nerd Corps." A dense and sinister-sounding joint that's part cultural call-to-arms and part cultural criticism, it channels an odd element of snark and anger not often present in Adam's work, but pairs it handily with raw emotional confession. Likely his most aggressive song to date, it's an amazing effort that explores the duality of the geek rap phenomenon.

"Sad Ultron," by contrast, is a typical slice of WarRock's comic book storytelling dedicated to Marvel's premiere killer robot. Adam kills it – See what I did there? – on the mic, and Dale Chase's production is equally flawless. The whimsical "Johnny Wanderin'" winds down the meat of the EP with a beat that's so evocative of Dale's style that I almost swear he's used a variation of it before. Adam provides an enjoyable lyrical primer to the webcomic Johnny Wander that manages to be wholly relatable even to those of us unfamiliar with the series. Likely the strongest selection from this release, it's followed up by a pair of remixes.

The "Nerd Corps (Core Nerds Remix)" is even more epic than its original iteration, and additional rhymes for Dual Core and Beefy add some amazing new vocal textures. Adam's 11th hour admission that he "think[s] some party rappers're dope" and "think[s] some nerdcore music sucks," however, seems a tad too obvious to be profound.

The closing track is an exclusive DJ Empirical remix of Adam's tribute to mutant master thief "Fantomex" that goes in a completely different direction than everything else on the EP. It's a fun change of pace that spotlights a song that some would have otherwise missed, and though it and its predecessor aren't exactly canonical within the arc of This Man... This Emcee both do nothing but enhance the listening experience.

Mechanically-speaking This Man… This Emcee is a practically flawless creation. Though it only represents the work of a scant five contributors (Adam, int eighty, Beefy, Dale and guest remixer DJ Empirical), each obviously gave the project his all. In fact, my only complaint against the release – and this is not an indictment of Adam WarRock as it's an unfortunate trend presently cropping up across nerdcore hip-hop and its periphery – is the occasional lapse into overt meta-rhyming.

In the olden days of geek-centric rap, MCs would often pepper their lyrics with glowing endorsements of nerdcore, salutes to the glories of nerd life and the triumph of the outsider. It was a particularly noble strain of pride and a suitable reaction to a world only just becoming aware of the power of geek culture, but it quickly became trite and overdone. It also became laughably overblown, with the style being touted in verse as the only solution to the evils of radio rap and hollow corporate hip-hop.

Now it seems that the pendulum has swung back the other way; acts are seeking to actively distance themselves from the conceptualized catch-all that is nerdcore hip-hop, or further they overemphasize the term and others' perception of it in hopes of challenging its conventions. This too has quickly gone from an effective means of self-critique to hackneyed internal shorthand.

Adam WarRock struggles with being a dedicated hip-hopper and a perceived nerdcore artist, and this is a common and understandable affliction. Yet to his credit he also manages to provide an alternative, a true antidote to the self-referential poison of overt cultural dissection: sincerity.

Adam crafts uniquely enjoyable music by focusing on the things that he loves (typically comic books and hip-hop itself), but he adds to that an uncanny level of skill honed over years of listening to, writing and genuinely enjoying music. And that music, no matter what you or I or even Adam himself decides to dub it, is nothing short of amazing.

"And Adam WarRock is here to keep the tape playin'."


King Corvid said...

Solid find. I've been looking for some worthwhile hip hop to throw on my iPod, you might have saved me the trouble.

DV said...

Cool, I wasn't aware of this concept outside of Jesse Thorn/The Sound of Young America. Downloading the album now. Thanks!

Z. said...

Lemme know what you think, Corvid. Adam is quickly becoming one of my faves.

I think you'll dig it, Larry. Plus we'll get to see him perform live at this year's NAP!