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What is Nerdcore?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Nerdcore is a genre of music with a heavy focus on traditionally nerdy or geeky subjects. It may also be called “geeksta rap,” in a mocking reference to gangsta rap. The artists who perform nerdcore usually self-identify as nerds and they typically describe their own work as nerdcore, although other artists may confer a nerdcore title onto someone. A number of styles and sounds are encompassed by the genre, although it primarily consists of rap and hip-hop. It may also be spelled as nerd core or specifically called nerdcore hip hop, differentiating it from the conventional hip hop genre.

The roots of nerdcore can be found in the 1990s, although the term was not coined until 2000, by MC Frontalot, a well known nerdcore star. While the themes of nerdcore music may include classically geeky pursuits such as science fiction, gaming, science, and computers, the music may also deal with political issues, drug use, and other topics of interest to the performer. As a general rule, nerdcore is defined by the artist, rather than by the music. In other words, a musician who occasionally sings about science is not producing nerdcore, while a self identified nerd rapping about the environment is creating nerdcore.

As with conventional hiphop, nerdcore is heavily dominated by male artists, although there are a few standout female nerdcore stars. The music often incorporates remixing and fresh takes on old music, with most artists producing and distributing their own work, in alignment with geek ethics about intellectual property and self reliance. Most nerdcore artists make their music available online, often for free, and they encourage fans to remix their work or to interpret it in new ways.

In some cases, nerdcore hip hop is intended to be comic. It is not uncommon to see an artist poking fun at him or herself and nerd culture in general, and nerd core often features complicated inside jokes which might seem incomprehensible to people outside of the nerd community. In other instances, the music deals seriously with issues of interest, such as freedom of information.

Some well known examples of the genre include MC Router, Optimus Rhyme, Mc Plus+, Commodore 64, MC Hawking, Beefy, and MC Chris. Many nerdcore artists are highly intelligent, articulate individuals who come up with startling and sometimes highly amusing rhymes. In addition to working as solo acts, some artists get together for collaborative projects, or they may perform together at festivals and major events.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Musical Expert researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon358542 — On Dec 11, 2013

It's really just alternative hip-hop. I believe that nerdcore has somewhat changed and evolved over time. Some of the artists mentioned above are retired from music or on a super long hiatus. The cats you have to look out for are Random, Warrock and Awkward. But there is also a new generation brewing.

By anon346407 — On Aug 28, 2013

A casual perusal of search results for "nerdcore" referred me to a handful of ostensibly prominent/established artists that, from what I could extrapolate, appear to serve almost exclusively as a parody of generic pop "rap" (something I vehemently despise and contemn, as a legitimately violent piece of crap).

Not only does that attribute appear to thematically pervade the entirety of the nerdcore samples I attempted to listen to, but it also seems representative of the acoustic, lyrical and even topical validity of its content. I looked up the term in hopes of finding the intellectual equivalent of, say, Aesop Rock's work, superimposed onto a format that deviates completely from the "hip hop" cultural perspective that indelibly permeates even the most exemplary instances of rap music.

However, I evidently failed to heed the omens reinforcing my general cynicism, so I defer to you aficionados: am I missing something? Is the phenomenon I described, in fact, definitive of nerdcore as a whole, or are there alternate venues for academic or esoterically themed rap that can presume to rival the likes of more orthodox luminaries like Aesop, MF Doom, Common Market, etc., especially ones not tainted by things like religion or near exclusivity to male artists? If so, please indulge me. Thank you.

By anon343683 — On Aug 01, 2013

I keep reading all these misconceptions about rap. People saying it isn't wholesome, or it's all about sex, etc. There's more to hip-hop and rap than all of that. You're just seeing the popularized aspects of it. This is commercialized rap. Sex sells. Rap can be a powerful thing. Try listening to an artist like Akala. It can really make you think differently about an entire genre of music. Almost like the 'media image' of rap is an entirely different genre.

By amysamp — On Sep 21, 2011

Who knew - there is a nerdy version of rap!! I love it. My roommate in college introduced me to Christian rap but I did not know that there was yet another twist to the rap scene.

I think that nerdcore rap should start to get into the mainstream maybe by trying out for a nationwide talent show or other talent search venue. This way the topics used in rap songs could be broadened.

Does anyone who has listened to nerdcore think that nerdcore artists might stand a chance in the nationwide talent shows?

By miriam98 — On Sep 21, 2011

@starrynight - I’ve listened to nerdcore bands, and while it’s true that they incorporate technical “nerd” type words into their lyrics, they also appeal to some of the raunchier elements of rap music. At least the stuff I’ve listened to has been that way.

Therefore the idea that their music is more wholesome than standard rap music is somewhat open for debate.

They’ve borrowed rap’s style, while melding it with their own world of computers, online games and yes, even sexuality. That’s been my experience anyway, and so I wouldn’t consider it a wholesome alternative music for teenagers to listen to.

If anything, nerdcore is more about geeks coming of age so to speak; they’ve arrived, and they want to be part of the party.

By KaBoom — On Sep 21, 2011

@starrynight - I disagree. I think these so-called "nerds" should just get their own darn style of music!

It seems like nerds are kind of social outcasts. Instead of fitting in to normal society nerdcore artists are making money off of making fun of stuff a lot of people like. I just don't get it. If they're really that smart they could invent their own genre of music without ripping off other artists.

By starrynight — On Sep 20, 2011

I think nerdcore could actually be a really good thing for teenagers. I'm pretty sure hip hop is all the rage these days. It would be cool to introduce teenagers to some "cool" music with decent subject matter.

It's been my experience that most regular hip hop music is all about drugs, drinking, being rich and getting ladies. Sounds like nerdcore artists have appropriated this style but with more appropriate subject matter.

By cloudel — On Sep 20, 2011

Nerdcore sounds entertaining! I have never heard of it before, but reading about it makes me think of Weird Al’s song “White and Nerdy,” in which he speaks about wearing a pocket protector and riding a segway.

I can see how the combination of rap, which is often based on lust, greed, and other simple topics, with intelligent subject matter could be humorous. I would like to hear some of it.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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