Last night Alex Trebek roasted a nerdcore fan on national television, calling her a loser on air. And nerdcore fans weren’t having it. But everybody who wasn’t a nerdcore fan, which is most of the planet, is probably wondering what the heck nerdcore even is.
Nerdcore has its roots in the Napster era. Around 2000, as the internet became more widely available, nerdcore was part of the enormous DIY music boom that came with being able to put a record out without needing a pressing plant. (Without the internet, and the dirt cheap music distribution it offered via song sharing networks and later YouTube, there likely would be no nerdcore.) Nerdcore quickly found an audience via song-sharing networks and sites like Flash animation repository Newgrounds, with songs like Bentframe’s “Star Wars Gangsta Rap,” which won the first Audience Award in the official Star Wars Fan Film Festival, or Sealab 2021 using MC Chris’ song “Fett’s Vette” in an episode. (If you’re wondering how they found it, MC Chris had a side job voicing Hesh on the show.)
Like any musical subgenre, there is relentless and tiresome argument over who’s nerdcore and who isn’t. As a result, nerdcore is mostly grouped around two points: Subject matter and self-identification as a nerdcore artist. Artists like MF DOOM are sometimes considered part of the genre thanks to rapping about nerdy topics, while the members of Jedi Mind Tricks, despite having been active well before nerdcore was really a thing, don’t really associate themselves with nerdcore especially as their music tends to take on more diverse topics than Star Wars and programming languages. A good rule of thumb is that nerdcore tends to thrive on the humorous tension between the art form and the subject matter. There is, however, no one specific sound; you can find styles ranging from jazz rap to Stephen Hawking committing drive-by shootings.
The artists who took nerdcore into the spotlight, such as it is, are MC Frontalot and Optimus Rhyme, who performed a concert at the first Penny Arcade Expo in 2004 and brought nerdcore to a larger audience, or at least a relatively larger one. That led, in turn, to sporadic concerts elsewhere and even artists going on tour: The 2008 documentary Nerdcore Rising follows Frontalot as he prepares for his first gigs on the road.
The genre, however, has largely stayed underground, in part by design. There’s a limited audience for songs about obscure programming languages, after all, and many nerdcore audiences are hobbyists with day jobs. Optimus Rhyme, for example, ultimately went their separate ways, forming the slightly more mainstream group Supercommuter, and MC Router later converted to Islam and began working as a translator. In other words, it’s a form of music that’s defiantly uncool and obscure, and unlikely to catch on. But at least it makes for good banter on Jeopardy!
Five Nerdcore Songs To Listen To Now
MC Chris, “Twin Peaks”: A recent track from Chris, about everybody’s favorite David Lynch series.
MC Frontalot, “It Is Pitch Dark:” Arguably the song that started it all, a tribute to the text adventure games of yesteryear.
Optimus Rhyme, “Reboot”: A funkier take on nerdcore.
MC Router, “Control Panel”: The self-proclaimed First Lady of Nerdcore, in what’s her most popular track.
Beefy, “Hear Me Roar”: And finally, a tribute to Game of Thrones