Danielle Prokop is a typical geek. Her tattoo professes her love of Star Wars character Boba Fett. Her basement apartment in Vancouver is decorated with a painting of an old-school Nintendo controller, Tolkien tomes lining the mantle and more than one notebook of anime drawings.
But Prokop isn't content with just flashing memorabilia. She expresses her extreme geekiness by performing as a hiphop MC in the latest genre to bubble up from the land of beats and rhymes: nerdcore.
It's a bizarre hiphop where rappers spit less on hangin' with the homies and more on hangin' with the hobbits. In nerdcore, being a loser is encouraged. This time, the thicker the glasses, the deeper the street cred.
Prokop, who performs under the name Nursehella, tells me she's finally found a home in nerdcore.
"I've dumped rock 'n' roll and picked up hiphop while also coming out of the geek closet," she says. Merging the two camps might sound forced, in a Weird Al kind of way, but Prokop can rhyme "Japanimation" with "masturbation" without diluting the flow. She hasn't been challenged in Canada; she's the only known female nerdcore MC in the country.
This love of geeksta rap is spreading across North America, but it's not nerdifying audiences unnoticed. Two documentaries have tracked scenes from the hiphop nerdcore wave, following rappers with names like MC Plus Plus, Optimus Rhyme and the Sucklord. Nerdcore Rising focuses mainly on MC Frontalot, who's considered the godfather of the genre. Nerdcore For Life exposes the different flavours in this pocket-protecting hiphop. The docs have yet to be released, but once they start making the festival circuit, expect both the tech heads and the hiphop crews to take notice.
Dan Lamoureux, director of Nerdcore For Life, sums up one of the intentions of the film by riffing on an Oscar-winning rap. "It's still hard out there for geeks," he says. "If nerdcore keeps growing, maybe it will help non-geeks understand just how tough it is to live in the nerd world."
Don't mistake this sentiment for a woe-is-me sob story. Nerdcore doesn't complain too often about fighting jocks; the more conscious MCs realize it's better to celebrate nerdy lifestyles, with music as the instant messenger.
"People are proud of being nerds," Prokop declares. "Most of us are your bosses."
Achievement is the hallmark of the nerd manifesto, and nerdcore rappers challenge themselves to see how oddball it can go. Rapping about computer science? That's no problem for Stanford University student rapper Monzy, dropping lines like "You're a dial-up connection, I'm a gigabit LAN. I last a mythical man-month, you a one-minute man."
It's laughable, but is it mockery? Is nerdcore kicking dirt on hiphop by making fun of it? Lamoureux doesn't think so. Only the beginner MCs start nerdcore lives by parodying crunk rappers.
"Most nerdcore rappers eventually get won over by the power of hiphop," he says. "Once they start rapping, they can't stop, and the satirical elements take a back seat to musical craftsmanship."
And once the music bug hits them hard, some nerdcore MCs and DJs seek full-time success from their geek music hobby. Prokop is recording a 10-song demo to shop around at major labels, and she already applied at SOCAN.
Finding mainstream success through nerdcore isn't for every tech-savvy rhyme-slinger. Lamoureux sees only trouble if record companies look to make money off fame-hungry nerdcore scenesters.
"If artists start thinking they're going to cash in, then the genre's credibility will fade quickly," he says.
Geeks and nerds no longer have to be too shy to express their niche-hobby lives. Nerdcore has given them a stage.
As Prokop says, "Everything's coming up Millhouse."
Additional Audio Clips
Beefy's "Nerdcore For Life
Nursehellamentary by Nursehella