I once wrote in these virtual pages that there was “a severe shortage of truly weird hip-hop acts out there.” I’d like to now officially apologize for making such an ignorant and obviously untrue statement. I was listening to way too much formulaic Top 40 rap back then. I’ve broadened my horizons since then.
To illustrate, this week’s Weirdify playlist is all about the beats, rhymes and turntable wizardry. Shout out to Ian Frost and Army of Gay Unicorns for some helpful suggestions to round out the playlist. So fire up the ol’ Spotify and for God’s sake, make sure you’ve got a sound system with some decent bass. Even weird hip-hop needs to bump.
1. Die Antwoord, “Fok Julle Naaiers.” South Africa’s twisted “zef rap-rave” crew strikes again. Apparently the title is Afrikaans for “Fuck All Y’All.” I figured we oughta get the playlist off to a warm, fuzzy start.
2. TTC, “(pas la peine d’appeler je ne réponds pas au) TELEPHONE.” From South African rave-rappers to French rave-rappers. TTC are sort of France’s answer to the Beastie Boys, a bunch of smart-alecky white dudes who rap over everything from candy-colored electro (as on this track) to cheesy old-school disco. Je ne parle pas Français, but I hear the lyrics are hilarious.
3. Das Racist, “Happy Rappy.” Das Racist is a bunch of smart-alecky brown dudes (MC Heems and hype man Dapwell are of Indian decent, Kool A.D. is Afro-Cuban and Italian) from Brooklyn. Their big claim to fame is a novelty blog hit called “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell,” but they’re smarter than that. Mostly.
4. Birdy Nam Nam, “Engineer Fear.” Back to France again, this time to hear the crazy-quilt cut-and-paste sounds of a four-member DJ collective who can sample just about anything and make it sound funky, creepy and awesome.
5. Amon Tobin feat. MC Decimal R., “Verbal.” Tobin is another sample-based producer whose music is often only tangentially related to hip-hop. I just love the way he’s able to chop up this MC’s verses in a way that renders them completely unintelligible, but keeps their rhythm and attitude fully intact.
6. Goldie Lookin Chain, “Half Man Half Machine.” Imagine a bunch of Welsh lager louts putting their own sophomoric spin on the comedy rap of Flight of the Conchords and Lonely Island, and you’ve got Goldie Lookin Chain. It probably wouldn’t be half as funny if it weren’t for the drawling, gap-toothed accents. Apparently Wales is Great Britain’s answer to Mississippi.
7. Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip, “Thou Shalt Always Kill.” More British hip-hop, this time from a producer/rapper duo who sound like characters from a Charles Dickens novel, except for the state-of-the-art, blippy production and the sardonic torrent of hipster one-liners. Say it with us now: “Thou shalt not shake it like a Polaroid picture.”
8. Mission Man, “These Are the Moments.” Gary “Mission Man” Milholland is the only artist featured in each of our last two playlists (this one and Weirdify 6: When You’re Strange, our tribute to outsider music). Yes, he’s that amazing. That free-form guitar solo at the end of this track? Genius.
9. Buck 65, “Spread ‘Em.” Richard “Buck 65″ Terfry is, to the best of my knowledge, the only successful hip-hop artist ever to come out of rural Nova Scotia. Apart from that, he’s not actually that weird—although the Deliverance-like pervy cop he channels on this track is pretty incredible.
10. MC Frontalot, “Charisma Potion.” The first and still-greatest nerdcore rapper, MC Frontalot fills his tracks with references to role-playing games, tech blogs and other über-nerd touchstones. And he still manages to sound cool doing it. Also, he debates the correct pronunciation and usage of “attribute.” As a writer, I cannot tell you how deeply I appreciate this.
11. Yea Big & Kid Static, “We’ve Built a Time Machine That Runs on Beats. We Shall Only Use It for Good.” More geeky sci-fi rap, this time courtesy of a cult duo from Chicago. Turns out there’s a lot of this stuff out there; we could have also included tracks from Dr. Octagon or MC Hawking, but we decided, in the interest of equal time, to include an Insane Clown Posse track instead.
12. Busdriver, “Unemployed Black Astronaut.” Yeah, Busta Rhymes is pretty great, but this L.A. rapper is the underground’s undisputed master of tongue-twisting, warp-speed wordplay. He’s got weirder tracks than this one, but none cooler.
13. Sage Francis, “Zero.” Francis is chubby, bald, white and from Providence, Rhode Island. And he can rhyme circles around just about any mainstream rapper in the biz. This is from his most recent album, Li(f)e, which featured collaborations with members of Death Cab for Cutie, Grandaddy, Calexico and the late Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse.
14. Techno Animal, “Cruise Mode 101.” No weird hip-hop mix would be complete without a little industrial hip-hop. This angry little number comes courtesy of British producers Kevin Martin and Justin Broadrick’s Techno Animal project and features raps by a Chicago crew called Rubberoom. Angsty!
15. Insane Clown Posse, “Chicken Huntin’.” A funky little ditty about killing and eating hillbillies. Who’s hungry?
16. Brokencyde, “Goose Googlez.” I’m really sorry about including this one. I couldn’t resist. #Douchecore
17. The Notorious MSG, “Egg Rollin’.” Chinese comedy rap. It’s not racist if it’s being made by actual Asian guys, right? Actually, no, it’s still pretty racist.
Hope you enjoyed this week’s mix.
We don’t mention hip-hop very often on TWBITW, but it’s not because Jake and I aren’t fans. We thought that last Jay-Z album was pretty dope, as the kids like to say. But there seems to be a severe shortage of truly weird hip-hop acts out there. Most stick to the formula: Drop danceable, repetitive beat; spit rhymes about how awesome you are and how much your rivals suck; attempt to sing simple pop chorus yourself or hire moderately successful R&B star to sing it for you; repeat. Hey, don’t get us wrong—when it’s good, it totally works, but there’s precious little room left for weirdness.
Enter MC Frontalot, a rapper so uniquely weird that he’s inspired the creation of his own little hip-hop sub-genre, nerdcore. See, instead of rapping about bitches and bling, Front (real name: Damian Hess) and his fellow nerdcoreans rap about Star Wars, Commodore 64′s, tech blogs, role-playing games, and other subjects near and dear to geeks’ hearts. It’s sort of like if you took Weird Al’s “White and Nerdy” and built an entire genre of music around it.
Front just released his fourth album, Zero Day, earlier this year; it features tracks about actor/blogger Wil Wheaton, multiplayer online game Kingdom of Loathing, and a cameo by that geekiest of geek icons, John Hodgman (who plays the PC in those “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” commercials). If you’re wondering how anyone could possibly fill four albums with songs about such specific subject matter, you clearly have never been to Comic-Con. The nerd culture well runs deep. (It should also be noted that not every single Frontalot song is a nerd anthem; he also defends homosexuality on “I Heart Fags” and makes fun of hipster culture on “Indier Than Thou.” Mostly he writes nerd anthems, though.)
Since coining the term “nerdcore,” Frontalot has inspired a host of misfit rappers to get in on the geekiness. Other nerdcore rappers include MC Lars (sample song titles: “O.G. Original Gamer,” “White Kids Aren’t Hyphy”), MC Chris (who does some of the voices on Aqua Teen Hunger Force), and our favorite (name-wise, at least), Optimus Rhyme. There’s even not one, but two nerdcore documentaries in circulation: Nerdcore Rising and Nerdcore for Life. Because if there’s one thing nerds like almost as much as videogames and computers, it’s making documentaries about themselves (see also: The King of Kong, Wordplay, etc.)
Anyway, here’s the official video for “It Is Pitch Dark,” a track from MC Frontalot’s second album, Secrets From the Future. And if you don’t know what a grue is, all we can say is, you are clearly not an O.G. Original Gamer. Go find yourself a copy of “Zork” and recognize.
(P.S. This live version of “It Is Pitch Dark” is pretty killer, too. Watch those nerds bounce!)