Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Finally, A Real Nerdcore Movie

Okay, now you might remember a time last year when I reviewed what I thought was going to be a look at hip-hop's odd-ball sub-genre, nerdcore, only to be pretty disappointed that it turned out to be essentially a tour film for one particular artist. Well after that, I became somewhat determined to see an actual, at least semi-comprehensive nerdcore documentary... and this is it. It's called Nerdcore for Life - a 2008 flick, but just released on DVD a few weeks back. And I am finally, after almost a year, satisfied.

TL;DR? It's a good movie.

I don't know how much actual nerdcore music I could vouch for, but the film? It's an enjoyable, informative and breezy experience. I say "breezy," because we don't get too close to anyone in this film. We don't follow any of the artists to their home lives, meet the people who knew them growing up or walk in on any powerful personal moments. Instead it takes a more comprehensive approach, covering pretty much all the major artists, events and issues that make up the genre. In that sense, it's a lot like the music: packed full of fun, obscure references, rather than delving into potentially affecting poetry.

This film covers how the genre formed, who the key players are, how and where it developed... it looks at key events, websites, articles, performances and even message board beefs. This is a film that knows what it's talking about and has a lot to share. Of course, how much you'll want to see this film - unless you're feeling particularly adventuresome like me - will depend on how interested you are in this nerdcore stuff.

A lot of the MCs are clearly getting by based on the novelty value of their subject matter rather than any actual MCing skills or quality of music. And it can get a little frustrating listening to these (sometimes self-proclaimed) hip-hop outsiders patting themselves on the back for starting something that hip-hop artists have already been doing since day 1. They seem pretty impressed, for example, by an early nerdcore artist who they say blew their minds by doing a rap song about Star Wars... but hey, what about the multiple tracks by guys like Phoenix Orion, Walkmen or Shamroc the Abstract Jedi who easily predate nerdcore? Of course, "Star Wars rap" is just one piece of it; but the point is, new ground isn't really being blazed anywhere here... I don't think any of these people have topped the nerdiness of Newcleus; and they're definitely not as funky. But you'd never know that if you only took these guys' word for it.

To be fair, the film does briefly address that: they mention early novelty rap songs and point out how "DJ Jazzy Jeff rapped[sic] about a lot of nerdy stuff." But that's what I mean: the movie gets it right even when the artists themselves don't. So, if you can get past the cheesy beats and sometimes pretty awful MCing (I mean, it's not all completely terrible... let's just say that the levels of talent and quality vary a lot, and none of it reaches "great"), there's a lot to take out of this movie. It was neat to actually see the real man behind MC Hawking, and surprising to come across Jesse Dangerously, an artist who I remember from the 90's but had no idea he was now explicitly a part of the nerdcore scene. There's a great bit where several of the MCs explain some of their more obscure references, and a shocking bit of back-story to YTCracker, who apparently did time in a federal prison for hacking into multiple government and military websites.

The DVD has some extras, too. You get extended footage of several performances and convention coverage that appear only as quick snippets in the documentary. You get a short but interesting look at a screening (of this film) and a performance in Amsterdam, followed by some uncomfortable after-partying. And finally you get music videos for "Buggin' Out" by MC Router and "Lolcats" by Doctor Popular.

So yeah, if you're even remotely interested in anything to do with nerdcore music, I recommend checking this movie out. It's a fun time, though you might want to just rent it or catch it when you can, since it doesn't have the emotional substance to draw you back in again and again like, say, Near Death or something. And if you're a hardcore fan of this stuff, definitely go ahead and purchase the DVD (which you can do direct from their site, nerdcoreforlife.com); you'll be pleased. Ah, who am I kidding? I'm sure those guys had this on preorder since 2009. ;)

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