Thursday, February 10, 2011

People Mover

Before I dive into yet another album review – and believe me, one's a-comin' – I wanted to pause so as to allow us to catch our collective breath.

There. Isn't that nice?

In the midst of the aforementioned punishing review schedule I've actually found the time to assemble another edition of Radio Free Hipster. This one is themed around love and should drop next Monday. Which, if memory serves, is Valentine's Day. #lookatmebeingallappropriate

And with that in mind I'd also like to spotlight yet another video. This one comes courtesy of my northwestern brother Jarod of AlienBobz. Over the last couple of months he has shared a ton of concert footage shot in and around Seattle, much of it from acts like Billy the Fridge, Klopfenpop and Death*Star.

Likewise this clip comes from local Sea-town heroes People Within, fronted by former Optimus Rhyme co-vocalist Broken English. It's for their cut "Love Sick," which I think serves as a fine lead-in for the next podcast.

Peep the vid below, and check for links to equally fine audio from the gig(s) in question.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Nerdcore Now and Then

The history of nerdcore hip-hop – particularly as an online movement – is nigh inseparable from the checkered past of the Rhyme Torrents community. And while the BBS and its titular compilation project conjures up mixed emotions from most of us who were there for nerdcore's first tentative baby steps into the pop culture consciousness, it doubtlessly remains the dawn of its very own era of geeky rap.

It was responsible for increasing the visibility of first generation artists, launching the careers of second genners like Beefy and Ultraklystron and, in one way or another, coloring the styles of practically all acts to come along thereafter. But it is likely most remembered as the source of countless flame wars, beefs and staggering examples of artistic cannibalism.

Rhyme Torrents defined nerdcore for many creators and listeners, and it returned the favor by defining RT as a less-than savory corner of the internet where generations of nerdy musicians cut their teeth. Yet the fact that I am still talking about Rhyme Torrents so many years after its inception and subsequent destruction speaks to its enduring importance, its cultural legacy.

Recently, however, Danger Aaron and a small cadre of the nerdcore faithful have set themselves to rebuilding the embattled nerd rap Holy Land. Ill content to simply re-colonize its ruins they have instead constructed a new community from the ground up, even going so far as to cast aside the recognizable (if somewhat notorious) name.

Nerdcore Now wears its mission statement on its sleeve. Its very moniker leads one to believe that it represents a new stage in musical evolution, a kinder, gentler, more contemporary approach to digital community building. Only time will tell whether it is ultimately successful, but the team is off to a solid start with its first compilation album.

Nerdcore Now Volume 1 kicks off with a brand new joint from scene staple Beefy. Simply entitled "Nerdcore Now," it pays homage to the roots of RT without ever whitewashing its various problems and shortcomings. Between Beef's high octane lyrics and Klopfenpop's frenetic production, it makes for a solid start.

From there we are treated to a studio version of Supercommuter's "Robot Party," a song that was previously only available as a live cut. It's another amazing selection that Stenobot assures me is a hint of things to come from the band's sophomore release. This is handily followed by "Warp Zone (1-2)" by my local homies The ThoughtCriminals. The band's trademark dark, dense sense of production and lyricism is present in spades, and it makes for a suitable nerdcore anthem from a crew that typical only operates on the scene's musical periphery.

The Future's "Teleport" is an eclectic charmer with a nice glitch/chiptune melody that floats just above the beat, and the flow manages to excite throughout despite the over-processed vocals. Soup or Villainz follows up with the fierce "Live in the Arcade," which kills it on the verses but sadly loses me a bit on the muddy chorus.

Thereafter Milk-Plus & Lady DKX ably represent nerdcore's European contingent with "I Can Be Your Supervillain." From top to bottom it is an amazing cut, and one that caught me totally unaware. It's follow-up is Adam WarRock's "Nightcrawlin'," which I won't fawn over too much as A) I've already had my say and B) there's a fairly prominent shout-out to me in the intro. Still, I have to state that Adam is an incredibly talented cat and this one should be particularly enjoyable for comic-loving heads.

If memory serves, my pals Death*Star leaked "Social Apothecary" when they appeared with me on The Bonebat Show. While C0splay and MC-3PO may not have hip-hop swagger in the traditional sense, their writing is always top-notch. And though this certainly isn't my favorite Death*Star track, it's a fun enough diversion – especially with the auto-tuned bridge. Follow-up "Sweeter" boasts the vocal talents of two of my favorites, Random and Dale Chase, and both bring the goods. It's a smoothed-out jam that's title says it all.

PovertyMan's "Rap Cliché" marks the compilation's half-way point, and it's yet another track that shocked and amazed. It's a musical departure from practically everything else on the album, not to mention one of the smartest, most unapologetic salvos against both the fickle mainstream and its equally apathetic underground backlash. By comparison Jake-bit's "Redundant Me" kicks off like a more traditional and noticeably shaky example of nerdcore, but an approachable narrative and some spot-on production (once again by Klopfenpop) carry it throughout.

I was really happy to discover that "Give A Little Love" – one of my favorites from Illbotz's new Pudding is Delicious LP – was also included on Nerdcore Now Volume 1. A breezy, smart-ass slice of humorous hip-hop from the Botz and Poe Mack, it injects some much-needed comedy into the project's latter half. Consequently XoC's "A Seed Grows in Brooklyn" doesn't showcase his strongest flow, but the combination of his acrid rhymes and a minimalist beat help it to stand out.

With the recent Shine Avenue serving as their strongest effort to date, I had high expectations from Emergency Pizza Party's "Never Going Back." It's a definite success as a cohesive track, although there are some hit-and-miss rhymes throughout. Still, between a hot beat and tons of energy, it's hard not to dig it. "Character Select" by Bizarro X-Men is the perfect follow-up with some amazing vocal contributions from Dynamo Dash, King Pheenix and Maros, and the beat (also by Dynamo) is a perfect fit.

Ultraklystron's "Bromance Dance" isn't about anime. What the fuck?! Seriously, though, Karl's spent a lot of time out of the game of late due to school and the rigors of real life, but he manages to add his own unique flavor to Nerdcore Now Volume 1. I can't quite decide if I like his artificially aggro chorus, but the verses punch hard and his production is, as always, tough to beat.

One of the last cats I expected to hear on a contemporary nerdcore comp was The Ranger, but he Fatback Supreme, Milk-Plus, and a the rest of Torrentz come through with the self-explanatory "Nerdcore International." A fine contribution, it adds an important element to the proceedings. Another posse-style cut is the Klopfenpop-helmed "Don't Panic." Alternately delicate and jarring, MC 117, Milk-Plus (again) and Scrub Club's Diabeats make their musical tribute to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy memorable, even if it's not nearly as flawless as some of the collection's other contributions.

MC 117 winds down the album with Flobot's parody "Bulbasaur." Though humorous and certainly enjoyable, it's kind of a strange selection for this late in the album. The same can be said for Untested Methods' "Little Crow." It's complex and intense, and while the vocals don't always grab me the production shines throughout.

In case 20 tracks wasn't enough for you, Nerdcore Now Volume 1 concludes with a bonus remix from Klopfenpop. It takes Random's "Fly" into interesting new territory. I'm never quite sure how to gauge admitted bonus cuts alongside an album-proper, but its delicate fade-out does manage to bring proper closure to the compilation.

I am a bit of a hard ass when it comes to album reviews, and that's likely because I've done so many of them over the past few years. Still, I only endeavor to judge artistic output based on the merits of the source.

In that regard Nerdcore Now is an untested property. Sure, I already know the bulk of its contributors thanks to shared history or, at the very least, by reputation, but if we are truly to accept it as a different animal than the Rhyme Torrents of yesteryear… well, then we must judge it on its own virtues.

While Nerdcore Now Volume 1 would stand up as a great RT compilation – combining the eclecticism of those early efforts with a more stringent brand of quality control and astronomically higher production values – I have to keep reminding myself that it isn’t. It is its own thing. And while that thing may not exactly be groundbreaking, it is enjoyable and worth the time it takes to explore and digest.