Take gangsta rap, replace the ho’s, guns, ‘n’ gangs with computers, codes, and Star Wars references…whaddaya get? Nerdcore Hip Hop is a growing sub-genre of hip hop where geeks bust rhymes about nerdy subjects. It’s awesome. (Hit Wikipedia for a Nerdcore Hip Hop history lesson.)
Enter MC Frontalot, a nerdcore rapper credited with coining the term "Nerdcore Hip Hop". Complete with phat (no, fat) specs, pocket protector, and lyrical nimbleness, Front has made a huge name for himself in the space. A successful album, a recently completed tour, a film documentary nearing production, random lyrical appearances in British sitcoms, have all been achieved without a label, and in full DIY glory.
I had a chance to chat with MC Frontalot about where he’s fronted, and where he’ll be fronting next. Check it:
GARAGESPIN: Nerdcore Hip Hop is getting huge, and you’re often touted as one of the movement’s main movers and shakers. How does it feel to a pocket-protected George Washington of a new rap genre?
MC FRONTALOT: I hope I am more the Karl Marx of nerdcore than the George Washington. Did you know that GW’s historically noted birthdate is incorrect? The British empire caved to international convention and shaved 11 days off its calendar in 1752. But it was decreed that nobody would be 21 until they’d been alive for 21 full years (including the missing days). So he had to bump his birthday down a week and a half. I learned this by reading a magazine.
It feels okay to be me! I’m just hoping that the movement gets enough traction for me to be on VH1’s I Love The Aughts in six years and have the caption under my talking head read "founder of nerdcore hip-hop" instead of "crazed janitor from Viacom building 18C."
GARAGESPIN: What inspires you to bust rhymes? A beat, a lyric, a style sheet, a webserver, a mainframe, or something else..?
MC FRONTALOT: A few different things will reliably drive me to notepad.exe.
1) Hearing a kickass beat on the radio with terrible 3-note rap-singing over it. There are a couple people who do badass 3-note rap-singing, like Nelly, and then there are a shitload of lame-oze who do not deserve their producers. I will rap loudly over them in the car to drown out their irritating vocals, then maybe I’ll come up with a chorus or something, go in the house, type it down. Hearing good rappers on the radio should similarly inspire me but instead it is just intimidating.
2) Awesome songfight.org titles. There are more awesome titles than I have chances to compete, but sometimes my availability matches up with something like "Romantic Cheapskate" or "Fresh Dog" and I am very glad.
3) Getting email from Baddd Spellah. That guy never sleeps. Sometimes his mail to me has beats in it.
GARAGESPIN: How do you record and produce your stuff, and what gear and software do you use?
MC FRONTALOT: Right now I am using an Edirol (Roland) UA-101 interface. It has okay preamps, nice D/A, good drivers, and a little onboard input-against-playback mixing knob, which is nice because I can use that, laptop, mic, headphones, and have a recording rig that fits in one backpack.
My current vocal mic of choice is an AT 4050/CM5. It is crispy and bright and signal comes strong like bull. I am still recording and mixing on Adobe Audition 1.5 with various DX and VST plugins. I do my own engineering and mixing, with lots of help in the beats department from various drum programming friends.
GARAGESPIN: The MC Frontalot name was big enough to enable a full 16-stop tour. What were some of the most significant breakthoughs that helped you get your music heard and known?
MC FRONTALOT: I still point to the Penny Arcade guys hearing Yellow Lasers, which was my first song fight entry. That got them interested in me, which got me onto the playlists of thousands of gamers. I owe them big. Being in Wired every so often helps too.
GARAGESPIN: I checked out Frontalot.com in Alexa.com, and noticed crazy traffic spikes in early March and early May. What triggered those explosions?
May was a tour. March, I have no idea. Maybe I was on Sweden’s Funniest Home Videos or something.
GARAGESPIN: Vaguely Qualified Productions is producing Nerdcore Rising, a Nerdcore Hip Hop documentary that tracked your fronting throughout your tour. How was that set up? What were your two most memorable events from the tour?
MC FRONTALOT: They heard about the band and thought it was worth making a movie about. Which seemed ridiculous at first but I have learned not to question it too deeply, just in case they accidentally catapult me to superstardom in the process. They rode in the tour van with us all through. I’m trying to remember the finest moments… jumping onstage to the packed house in Atlanta was really nice. We stayed up until 6AM drinking in the quarter in NOLA, which I enjoyed. It did not have quite the epic, gothic squalor of my imagination, but it is one of the few unique urban landscapes in the country and I’m really glad I got to almost throw up there. I remember we had this awesome four-hour argument in the van, between me & Gm7 (keyboards) and Blak Lotus (bass), about how profit is structured in the oil industry — a topic about which none of us had any expertise (or even the first shred of data). We are going to look like serious dumb-asses in this movie.
GARAGESPIN: Speaking of film and video productions, how the heck did your song lyrics end up in an easter egg on the IT Crowd season one DVD?
MC FRONTALOT: They wrote me email. Basically everything that has happened in my career so far has been because someone wrote me email. That is the awesome thing about being an internet celebrity. Your material just spams its way out into the ether and random interest ricochets back at you. Sometimes with the subject line REMOVE.
GARAGESPIN: The market for rap off-shoots is growing… Have any labels expressed interest in your rhymes? That said, are you even interested in pursuing a label deal? You seem to be doing fairly well already — what performs better for you, physical CD sales or digital album downloads?
MC FRONTALOT: I’ve sold more CDs than iTunes albums so far. I think that since the fans are looking at music purchase as a hand-out anyway, they want to have a little keepsake to memorialize their generosity. It’s like the tote bag from PBS.
No labels yet. I think they’re still scouting clubs for viable touring powerhouses and MTV beauties. Which is smart because you can’t sell a million records otherwise. If a label offers me a decent deal, I’ll jump on it I think. They would only have to make me about 10 times as popular as I am in order for it to be a good business decision for me. Which sounds like a lot of work — I mean, you couldn’t make P!NK ten times more popular. But me, you could hit that milestone in a week and a half if you sicced a couple publicists on it.
GARAGESPIN: How do you make time for jamming/recording/blogging? What’s your "day job" deal? Do you still geek-out?
MC FRONTALOT: I have abandoned my day job to front full time. The stuff I have to make time for is reading novels and playing video games.
GARAGESPIN: What other new projects and/or gigs are on the Front’s horizon?
MC FRONTALOT: There’s a new album in the works. It will be called "Secrets From The Future" and I am getting more and more excited about it. Hopefully soon I will get excited enough to write the remaining 3/4ths of the lyrical content. We should be touring around that album in April & May of next year. I think I’m going to do a verse for an Optimus Rhyme song pretty soon. And there’s a show with MC Lars in New York on Dec 18th at Mercury Lounge. What else? Uh… I’m thinking about giving my dog a bath this weekend. That should be pretty good. Musically.
GARAGESPIN: Awesome. Thanks, Front, and best of luck with the next show, and the new album.
Be sure to check out Front’s tracks at Frontalot.com. I’m planning to check out his Dec 18th show in NYC in a couple weeks — shout out if you plan to be there. You can check out more Nerdcore Hip Hop at NerdcoreHipHop.org.