Tupac and Biggie, move over. A new hip-hop feud is brewing that glamorizes not guns and ‘hos but Java and secure encryption algorithms.
While gangsta rap is seen as celebrating the violence and aggression that claimed two of its brightest stars, “geeksta” rap is a hip-hop genre celebrating coding skills and school grades.
Also dubbed “nerdcore,” this branch of hip-hop is for geeks, by geeks. Geeksta rappers adopt the same combative verbal-assault stylings of their forerunners, but bust rhymes about elite script compiling and dope machine code.
The term was first coined in 2000 by nerdy New York rapper MC Frontalot in a track of the same name. Nerdcore now refers to artists waxing lyrical about topics as disparate as engineering and Lord of the Rings.
In recent months, the field has seen a growing number of releases from computer science labs, where egocentric grad students show off their Ph.D. credentials in tracks like “Have to Code” and “End of File.”
“The stigma that was once attached to computer geeks and role-playing nerds is diminishing incredibly fast,” said “digital gangster” Bryce Case Jr., aka ytcracker. “It has almost become trendy to have skills on a computer. Rather than guns and ‘hos, I speak about DDOS attacks and camgirls.”
The self-proclaimed “#1 greatest computer science gangsta rapper ever” is MC Plus+, a geeksta leading light whose moniker comes from the C++ programming language.
The Purdue University, Indiana, Ph.D. candidate and “CS pimp,” whose album Algorhythms was recorded with pirated software, calls himself “the Tupac of the computer science world.”
MC Plus+ rattles off lines like: “I’m encrypting shit like every single day; sending it across a network in a safe way; protecting messages to make my pay; if you hack me you’re guilty under DMCA.”
But Plus+’s flow is dissed on the opposite coast by geeksta peers like Dan Maynes-Aminzade, aka Monzy, a 25-year-old Minnesota-born Stanford grad student who recorded a dis track specifically to insult his rap rival.
“Our raps are filled with braggadocio, but instead of boasting about our bitches, blunts, Benzes or Benjamins, maybe we talk about our math skills or the efficiency of our code,” Monzy said.
Monzy said competition between universities and academic departments is nothing new, and rivalries are a big part of the hip-hop tradition.
“Feuds between Nas and Jay-Z, Biggie and Tupac and 50 Cent and Ja Rule have received a lot of coverage and generally result in more exposure for both artists, so I decided to bring this to the world of CS gangsta rap by starting a feud with MC Plus+,” Monzy explained.
Such talk could put fans on alert for a spiral of tit-for-tat nerdcore violence – like that which marred the infamous intercoastal rivalry between the Death Row and Bad Boy labels and culminated in the killings of their two top artists.
Plus+, who writes most of his rhymes in class, said he is about to release an insult track written in response to the Monzy’s opening salvo.
“I saw two of my favorite rappers, Tupac and Biggie, get killed for no reason,” he said. “But it’s like this, man – when you’re at the top, there is jealousy and, needless to say, haters are coming at you. I’m gonna tell Monzy: ‘You ain’t even on my level’ – you got to know me and only me.”
The aggression also mirrors 1998’s war of words between LL Cool J and Canibus, a computer science major and tech-centric rhymester who fabricated a feud to generate publicity, according to Journal of Hip-Hop editor Andrew Ryan, who teaches both computers and hip-hop culture at George Mason University, Virginia.
“Computer scientists, by training, use divide and conquer in almost any task,” said Ryan. “Rap music, with all its complexities, provides (them with) the perfect conundrum.
“I don’t think this new subculture will really stick, though,” Ryan added. “If the genre is to succeed, you’re going to need some females.”
Nerdcore fans, meanwhile, are happy to identify with a music that speaks their own language.
Henry Lin, a geeksta fan and graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley, said: “The lyrics are full of inside jokes that only those knowledgeable in computer science would understand. Besides, some songs do a good job of capturing the everyday struggles of computer science majors.”
Frontalot, a New York designer who declined to give his real name, conceded he has “mediocre” mic skills, but said nerds can out-hip hip-hop’s true superstars.
“I think CS graduates have a better chance than most rappers at calculating and devising hitherto unheard rhyme pairings,” he said. “50 Cent has dance clubs and oral sex, we have awesome video cards.”