In the track “Memes are stupid” the godfather of Nerdcore hip-hop, Mc Frontalot, raps Just another echo of an image that you’ve seen/in another permutation on that same rectangle screen/just a little more obscene or droll, according to your self-expression/ And still it’s dumb, affording you this hellish lesson… (Hess and Martinjack, 2019). This song opens his brand new record Net Split, which officially releases March 8th, 2019. Why should you give this record a listen? Let me explain in my interview with MC Frontalot right here on Music Historian.
What must one do to become the godfather of a style of hip-hop, in this case, one called Nerdcore? According to a Wikipedia.org article about the artist, MC Frontalot first recorded the song “Nerdcore Hiphop” in 2000, which became an immediate hit in the geek and nerd communities (MC Frontalot, n.d.). In my personal interview with Frontalot at a quaint pie shop in Brooklyn, he elaborated on this niche genre.
“Music genres, more formally, should have something unifying them musically and not just in their subject matter. I don’t think Nerdcore is that. Jesse Dangerously, the Nova Scotian rapper, often points out that Nerdcore does not qualify as a genre… but is still a classification that is useful to people. It has certainly been useful to me because everyone is like “oh you made that up, so somehow you are in charge of it.”…
“It was always just hip-hop anyway, with just some nerd kids making it. The only real distinction is that they, or we, were less concerned with appearing cool than rappers were traditionally expected to be. That was always the thing about rap, it was always the newest, the coolest, most interesting kind of music in the United States. I think that might still be true even though rap is like 40 years old… That’s reflected in the traditional and modern hip-hop lyric… staking your claim to how wonderful you are. How much you should be paid attention to and how many trends you’ve set. And if you don’t have any of those feelings, but you still want to dabble in the form, then that’s what Nerdcore would give you… trying to make something within that space without having to present yourself as super cool.”
Returning to the song “Memes are Stupid,” I found myself asking the question, what was famous about memes in the first place and then what made them stupid?
“I think that the term was originally coined to describe a little unit of thought that was communicable and that could gain a mass beyond its individuality through the way people wanted to move around that idea,” Explains Frontalot. “Now, it just means pictures with words on them… the way they are approached and trafficked, they could not be more disposable…
“It is a form of harmless hipness that kids can rejoice in and that’s fine. But as a replacement for forming a complete thought, composing in words and communicating it as an original composition that might have some important meaning? As a substitute for that it… seems to be a very poor [one]… but as I identify in the song, it is like sewing your mouth shut – voluntary muteness.”
The name for the album, Net Split, broadly represents a break-up between the artist and his love for the internet. Another track, “DDoS” opens with Quelle Chris rapping, and he paints an image of a computer and internet junkie who is experiencing the failure of a computer’s ability to connect to the internet, and it sounds like an apocalypse with the heavy-handed lyrics and the ominous tones. The words Frontalot raps in the chorus are: D-D-o-S/ All heads saturated by internets/Get progressively worse and thought/Imagine it the other way around? It’s not/ D-D-o-S/All heads saturated by internets/ Get progressively overwhelmed/ Are you the service or are you the clientele? (Hess and Tennille, 2019)
The building blocks for this song arose as Frontalot and Quelle searched through this laptop and vast catalog of unused beats originally created by Quelle himself. They sought a grim, frightening apocalyptic vibe and found a fitting one, and wrote the lyrics to that feeling. Frontalot then talks more about the motivation behind this song. He provides an anecdote.
“If you remembered five, ten years ago, if a politician had one scandalous [news story] that emerged, it would be in the news for three or four days… and now, there are scandals far overshadowing [those from that period happening] three to four times a week… It is insane, and none of it sticks because the mental space we have reserved for current political scandal is completely overwhelmed… like a buffer overflow… a security flaw in a software program or, as we compare it in the song, like a server-client model where so many client requests come in fraudulently, that legitimate client requests are impossible to handle, and [become] attributed to denial of service. Nobody can use the server, and that is the point of that kind of attack. That is what happens to our brains, the lies, the craziness, and the next wild scandal and utter outrage floods in and washes away the last one. Nothing gains purchase.”
Frontalot parallels how our minds receive information – whether it is true or not – to the way a server processes real and unreal client requests. After a while, it may become difficult for us to distinguish the real from not. Yet I still pondered about the actual challenges Frontalot experienced with the internet, especially given that he fell in love with it in 1992, as a first-year college student. Referencing my attentive ear, I then refer to another song that might allude to a personal challenge with the internet – online sexism and bashing.
The song “IWF” which stands for Internetting While Female addressed online sexism. The rapper, E-Turn, a.k.a. Eliza Azar Javaheri, rhymes to the fictitious unapologetic and obnoxious user, Chad: See you jumping on a thread and steady watching you choke/ Post some politics, you tell me to get back on the boat… Quoting Joe Rogan, posting how you’re #blessed/ the next day online talking trash about your ex/ getting in your feelings ’cause she denied your request/ Blahblahblah bro, bro, bro you’re a mess (Hess, Exum, Liu, Javaheri, 2019). Then Chad, played by Frontalot raps: Well, actually! Not all of us act as you say/ Be exact! You’re sounding irrational. Facts are the way… Simply be us, you’ll have an easier time/ Or log off! Why are you here? I won’t follow you/ I get to be worse than any of you, if not all of you (Hess, Exum, Liu, Javaheri, 2019).
Chad displays proud ignorance in these lyrics. Frontalot admits to writing that from the perspective of the quintessentially terrible online man. This song also includes women decompressing about those types of interactions with Chads in their personal experience. Whether or not men are trying to intentionally push women offline, this is what Frontalot sees on the internet.
“They [the terrible online man] cannot wrap their head around the idea of any space they feel strongly about because it should not belong to anyone else. That’s typical and bad human behavior,” says Frontalot, “but it seems viciously amplified within this particular gender conflict…
“Obviously, sexism is not just something that happens online. It’s been brought, like almost everything we go through, our rich history of treating each other badly in person. There is something about reaching so many other humans directly, without having your name and face attached, or without having any stakes in terms of your reputation… The anonymity brings out all the behaviors we have civilized down in our normal lives. Now we have to worry… is it about boys behaving as badly as ever times 100 because they’re anonymous, or times 1000 because people are actively leading them on towards malice?”
Further, in the interview, I learn that these common occurrences on the internet, such as the one previously described, is not enough to diminish Frontalot’s passion for the online realm.
“Hopefully, the love outweighs the suffering? That’s what you want out of any relationship. No relationship will be ‘suffering-free.’ But you want the joy and comfort to so far exceed the suffering that you are not every so often asking yourself whether it is worth it. I still love so much about the internet more than ever, and it is not like I spend any time away from it.”
The female rapper, E-Turn, is also joined on “IWF” by Miss Eaves, Starr Busby, and Lex the Lexicon Artist. Thanks to the internet that all these artists were able to collaborate. Funny enough, many musicians with whom Frontalot worked, made their acquaintance online before meeting in person. Does the internet facilitate musical collaboration?
“I was introduced to that possibility with the site “Song Fight” which I was involved with a lot from 2000 all the way to 2005. Much of the early Frontalot stuff that got reworked into the first album was from song fights originally. It is a songwriting and production competition.
“Every week, they present a title, and everyone writes a song which includes that title, i.e., we all write a song with the name “Yellow Lasers” by the end of the week. [Then], we go around and critique each other… and somebody wins. Through the process of that and the community forums for that, we do a lot of collaborating.
“The internet still has so much to offer. I still have stars in my eyes when I think of it. How great the internet seemed, and the limitless possibilities.”
That idea of a community then made me think of how hip-hop started. Parties were occasions where people could listen to hip-hop. I thought of how turntables were used to provide the entertainment for a party as an alternative for having a multi-person band.
“The DJ has something the band does not have – the whole history of recorded music in a crate, at your fingertips, ready to take the party in any direction; to perform at full energy, tirelessly, for hours. You have electricity which is your energy source.
“The art form of turntablism where you are taking different recordings and putting them together live into a new thing… It’s better to look at it as an inventive moment in the pre-existing paradigm of having a party where there is a DJ.”
The turntablist, Kid Koala, appeared on Frontalot’s 2014 record, Question Bedtime in the track “Shudders.” When I asked Frontalot about his previous records, such as Question Bedtime, he admitted “I think I went a little too in the weeds with the last couple of records. With Question Bedtime, when people saw it was about fairytales and folktales, they worried they would not find they had loved before in the “Voltron: The Adventure Games” references. This [Net Split] will be the most accessible record I have ever written.”
Net Split is releasing soon, and for anyone who likes dark humor and satire, this record is for you. There will not be a listening party, but Frontalot is entertaining a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) thread on Monday, March 11th. “Being an old nerd now is funny. ‘Get off my line’ or ‘get off my lawn’ is the vibe of this record.”
On the other hand, Frontalot also insists “That not all hope is lost. It is a record about complaints and pessimism… that’s my writing voice… I’m a little worried that the tone of it will concern potential listeners.”
That may happen. The only people I see this album offending are meme lovers. You have been politely warned.
If you are wondering about a tour, there is one! MC Frontalot plans a tour for 18 days with Schaffer the Darklord, MC Lars and Mega Ran from April 30th through May 16th. On March 16th, he will be at SxSW. Other performances include After PAX in Boston March 31st, and New York April 5th.
*All photos were published with permission of the artist and Baby Robot Media
Hess, D., Martinjack, D. (2019, March 7). Memes are Stupid (Net Split) [Lyrics]. Retrieved from https://www.dropbox.com/s/bmljnlwrk7uqp47/MC%20Frontalot%20-%20Net%20Split%20-%20Credits%20%26%20Lyrics.pdf?dl=0
MC Frontalot. (n.d.) In Wikipedia. Retrieved February 22, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MC_Frontalot
Hess, D., Tennille, G.C. (2019, March 7). DDoS (Net Split) [Lyrics]. Retrieved from https://www.dropbox.com/s/bmljnlwrk7uqp47/MC%20Frontalot%20-%20Net%20Split%20-%20Credits%20%26%20Lyrics.pdf?dl=0
Hess, D., Exum, S., Liu, A.S., Javaheri, E.A. (2019, March 7). IWF (Net Split) [Lyrics]. Retrieved from https://www.dropbox.com/s/bmljnlwrk7uqp47/MC%20Frontalot%20-%20Net%20Split%20-%20Credits%20%26%20Lyrics.pdf?dl=0