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'."

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Nerdapalooza Cometh

With the responsibilities of family, a day job and multiple blog/writing/podcast projects constantly weighing on my tiny shoulders, I am not exactly what one would call a traveler. I sort of have to budget out my trips with extra care, as both time and money are rather scarce. That being said, I will once again be spending my meager vacation days supporting the geeky musical community at this summer's  Nerdapalooza festival.

Actually, it occurs to me that I keep saying I'm going to Nerdapalooza, but I haven't, y'know, actually done anything with regards to arranging my travel or accommodations. I better get on that shit. But first, let's talk shop!

Thus far the lineup is looking pretty damn amazing. Random, Dual Core, The Protomen, Schaffer the Darklord and a handful of other phenomenal acts that I can't help but think of as "the regulars" have already been announced, and with the addition of my favorite sophomore performers, Florida's own Sci-Fried, I can't help but get a little giddy about the bill. Add to this outstanding newcomers like Metroid Metal, Adam WarRock, The One-Ups and my boys Illbotz, and you've got the recipe for an unbelievable musical weekend.

The best part, for me at least, is that there are still performers yet to be announced! Personally, I'm holding my breath for the inclusion of NC's The ThoughtCriminals, the return of Kirby Krackle and, of course, Frontalot and Co. Still, part of the fun is in the discovery.

With the big event less than two months away, those of us that closely follow the scene are gearing up for it a number of ways. GeekDad's a sponsor of Nerdapalooza 2011, so Curtis and I are even now scheming for ways to both promote the festival and cover it from within. Likewise, Hex's own Nerdy Show is getting into the proverbial groove by featuring a number of this year's featured MCs in their next remix contest, The Marvel Vs. Capcom Mixtape. Of course as the duly elected emperor of the land of Hipster, please! I am also doing my part to remind performers and attendees of Nerdapalooza's long-standing cover song tradition. You know how I do.

But mostly I'd like to know your thoughts on this year's celebration of musical nerdery. Who are your most anticipated acts? What are your picks for the last handful of artist reveals? What are you plans for Nerdapalooza weekend itself? Most importantly, can I bum some gas money and sleep on your floor? ;)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Radio Free Hipster Ep. 110: The Southern Accents Mixtape

In case you haven't realized, I've been thinking a lot lately about my region. About how the South has shaped me, as well as about how I view it. It took me years to make peace with the fact that I was a nerd, and it's taken even longer to come to grips with my innate southerness.

I don't for a minute think that my particular geographic area is somehow superior to others, but I have also begun to accept that it's also not wholly inferior either. Admittedly, we have a rather sordid past, but so does our nation. So does our world.

I like to think of the current era as the New New South. And unlike previous iteration its strength is a genuine sense of self-awareness. Not an overinflated view of heritage or a skewed personal history, but rather an understanding that we are not our fathers or our father's fathers. We have reached an understanding that there is more to the world than our meager boundaries, so rather than just being simple southerners we simply are.

Nerd music tends to shine when it is inherently nerd rather than intentionally so. The same goes for southern music. Here are some examples of both. It's a selection of geeky music from southern artists that refuses to outright pander to either demographic.

Download Radio Free Hipster Ep. 110: The Southern Accents Mixtape [hosting provided by Antisoc] Size: 69 MB Running Time: 52:38

Show Notes:

Intro: Baddd Spellah – "Radio Free Hipster Theme (feat. Beefy)"
By this point you all know that a fucked up theme song = a mixtape-style episode, right?

Track 1: Parks and Recreation dialog / DJ Earworm – "If I Were a Free Fallin' Boy"
To me, Tom Petty really defines the contemporary end of the southern musical tradition.

Track 2: The Mudbloods – "Glenrock Falls"
Much like that Petty mash-up, this is actually the kind of song I'd typically reserve for a show closer. Still, it felt pertinent to represent Austin, TX early (and often) in the ep.

Track 3: The Emotron – "Bigger than J.C. (demo)"
Emotron is a notorious live act in the regional music scene.

Track 4: Illbotz – "Ride On to the Real, Death to the Fakers"
I'd like to point out that this joint cribs the musical hook from Drivin' N' Cryin's "Fly Me Courageous" and the ending lyrical rant from Guns 'N' Roses's "Get in the Ring."

Track 5: The OneUps – "Bowser Castle"
Fayetteville's OneUps are on the Nerdapalooza 2011 bill. They're another act I have yet to see live, so I'm pretty excited about finally getting the opportunity.

Track 6: Nuclear Bubble Wrap – "Sharktopus"
NBW hail from Nashville, a town renowned for music. Still, I wonder sometimes if people really understand how much more it produces than just simply roots rock and country artists.

Track 7: HDninja – "Fighting"
I had to decide which of Florida's many nerd-friendly acts I would spotlight. I ended up going with HDNinja, mostly because they have long been a personal favorite.

Track 8: Metroid Metal – "Norfair (NES)" / Matt Davis "You Don't Talk Country" dialog
Though Metroid Metal now has a number of members in other locales, it was founded by North Carolina-based arranger Stemage.

Track 9: Sci-Fried – "Geek Rock"
Another Florida outfit that's particularly near and dear to my heart is Orlando's Sci-Fried. Them's my boys!

Track 10: Marc Gunn – "Samwise Gamgee"
Marc Gunn is a cat dedicated to keeping Austin's music scene healthily weird. He also provides this edition of the podcast with the proper dose of Celtic-flavored filk.

Track 11: The ThoughtCriminals – "Earthbound (feat. Adam WarRock and Random)"
The TCs are my Carolina brothers and Adam WarRock also spent his childhood in the South. Ran? Not so much, but I give him a pass. ;)

Track 12: Bill Hicks "Flying Saucer Tour" dialog / John Lennon vs. Bubba Sparxxx – "Oh Yoko's Ugly"
I played this Bubba Sparxxx mash-up years ago, but felt it was the perfect time to revisit it.

Track 13: Marc with a C – "Satellite" / Foghorn Leghorn dialog
Marc has some really amazing songs, but this one's always seemed particularly strong to me. I settled on it as the show's closer very early on.

I'm still not entirely happy with the sound quality of this episode, but it should be good enough to get you through a single show. Expect more tweaks as I figure out my new recording/editing setup.

I have a few more proper show themes brewing, but I think I'm going back to the potpourri approach from episode 111. Then again, I'm sure there's some sort of weird numerological concept I can mine from the show's number itself, so don't quote me on that.