Introducing… Nerd Swag (Volume 1)

Part 1 of 3, or of 4, or 5.. ‘cause I simply had no idea there’d be so much to write about “Nerd Rap” made cool for the masses.

Nerd Rap – and I really dislike this term – often comes with heavily negative connotations. There was an era when it actually became really cool to like Nerd Rap, or at the very least acceptable to enjoy a sub-sub-genre that embraces such multifarious intelligence.

That era perhaps began in 1997, when Company Flow introduced the rap world to Funcrusher Plus. It was an album I actually hated around a time I was too busy bumping rap classics like Wu-Tang Clan’s Forever, 2Pac’s All Eyez On Me, and Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt (my all time favorite record). To hear beats equivalent to the clanging of pots and pans, silly robot noises, and men exchanging dictionary verbatim at an annoyingly alarming rate was just too much.

Too much for the confused junior year high-schooler in me, of course.

My tastes, while still not accepting the “Rawkus” of El-P, Mr. Len and Big Juss mind you, would alter around 1999 when Boston became the Mecca of Underground Hip-Hop. Rappers like Esoteric, Virtuoso, Mr. Lif and Akrobatik delivered raps that were accepted by most, including a whole new array of – chiefly Nerd Rap — fans called Backpackers. I could write an entire article on Backpackers alone, but I’ll save you the suspense and just tell you that the term basically equates to “trendy” suburbanite youths with, you guessed it(!), massive, often smelly, utterly meaningless backpacks.

Yet, despite the upswing in popularity, wide assortment of live shows, and solid, independent record sales, the Boston scene would, too, turn its back on the Nerd Rap…

…instead, opting for the more Edo G/Gang Starr-inspired, street intelligence of current scene dominators Termanology, REKS and Slaine, the latter to whom appeared in Ben Affleck’s hit flick The Town.

As much as I want to give credit for my homebase for creating this ever-mysterious Nerd Swag (I’ll get to that term later, worshippers), true rap historians would blast me. As nerdy as Kurtis Blow and Africa Bambaataa were, those Gerry curls were never done on purpose; so, 1990 appears the safest number with the arrival of such rap crews, the Ultramagnetic MC’s (starring future Doctor Octagon and Dr. Dooom, Kool Keith) and LA’s Freestyle Fellowship (Aceyalone, Myka 9, P.E.A.C.E., Self Jupiter), who paved the wave of the accepted eclectic.

And, yes, classic hip-hop trios’ 3rd Bass and Beastie Boys – other than their sci-fi-inspired record Hello Nasty, of course – should be labeled more “Party Rap” than “Nerd”, despite the fact these guys were white, skinny, and, hey, awkwardly awesome.

Now, this piece isn’t entirely necessarily about “Underground Hip-Hop,” either, mind you. Basically anyone who raps before they become famous is considered underground (a.k.a. indie). Hell, Eminem still considers himself underground — despite his popularity on par with that of Michael Jordan. “Underground” could also be considered within hip-hop a mentality, per se, so let’s just do our best to avoid that term. There are plenty of dudes rhyming “underground” who are far from nerd.

And the best example is Jedi Mind Tricks.

Uh, hello!?!

The name of that rap group just screams “Nerd” (then again, rap legend Nas has a song titled “Star Wars”…). Jedi Mind Tricks are one of those groups that fight the very line of thug, mainstream and geek. The group’s – formerly trio, then duo, trio, now duo — debut album, titled The Psycho-Social, Chemical, Biological, And Electro-Magnetic Manipulation Of Human Consciousness is exactly like it sounds: a bunch of dudes rhyming about fantastical and intergalactic dilemmas, political allegories, and such other scientific strife. JMT was lead then by Ikon “The Verbal Hologram,” who would then later follow the downfall of Nerd Rap with a new, rougher-and-hella-gruffer moniker Vinnie Paz.

Vinnie Paz would go from rhyming about enchanted demons and dark empires to punching people in the face and outing homosexuals. Thankfully for Paz, his raw rhyme delivery matched the intense orchestra of then JMT producer, Stoupe “The Enemy of Mankind”, perfectly…

Stoupe was — and perhaps still very well is — the second coming of RZA, destroying the game with an assortment of exotic strings, intense percussion, and trembling drums. Not to mention some crazed-out sci-fi/fantasy movie samples, to which you just know us geeks love most! Stoupe’s beats are straight lethal. And Vinnie P, along with longtime on-and-off mic-mate Jus Allah, still surprised enough lyrical heads with deep politics and intriguing metaphors.

Just don’t expect any bloody Ewok references, though.


Introducing… Nerd Swag (Volume 2) will hit GHG (and other mom-and-pop outlets where quality blogs are sold) SOON.

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