The first time I ever heard what sounded like an old school arcade video game in a song was back in 2010 while I was watching wrestling. When it comes to picking theme music for their Pay-Per-Views, the WWE tends to pick songs that are either too perfect or really corny. For their 2010 Money in the Bank PPV, they chose Money by I Fight Dragons. I Fight Dragons is a pop-rock with chiptune band from Chicago. That was my first taste of what happens when nerds do music.
Chiptune or 8-bit music is a genre of music using the sound chips from early video games and fusing them with modern electronic music. As someone who grew up with arcade games and Super Nintendo, chiptune really pulled me in! But it wasn’t just the chiptune sound; it was also the band themselves. As geeks or nerds, they sung about how geeks will rule, saving the world and getting the girl (like Mario and Peach for example), losing HP, and other things that related video game inside jokes to real life situations. It was AMAZING to hear a fusion between the nerdier things I enjoyed with a rock sound, so it piqued my curiosity.
I wanted to know if other genres besides rock and pop fused something geeky and nerdy into their sound. I was looking for even more diversity in what seemed to be a niche and I found that with a group called Wreck The System, an album they did called Tokens, and a genre called nerdcore. Nerdcore is a genre of music that popped up in the late 90s where hip-hop is littered with themes and sounds that speak to nerds. The topics can range from video games to Star Wars to hacking culture to politics; ANYTHING related to nerd culture and there is probably a song or group rapping about it.
Wreck The System is a band of 4, Lady J, Cam3, Twill Distilled, and Osiris Green based in the DMV (District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia). They weren’t always a group, they originally were just 4 separate artists who collaborated on songs and projects. Tokens was the album I first heard of them and they were mixed in with various other nerdcord artists such as Leo, The Last Wordbenders, Rhyme Artist, SkyBlew, Chidi, RPG Unit, and most notably Mega Ran.
As a group they each give their own unique sound that makes them stand out. Osiris is very lyrical and clean when he raps, there is a sense of consciousness and worldliness with his choice in words and there is always a clear-cut message as he flows. Cam3 is loud and theatrical with his raps. He starts off strong and in your face then smooths it down as if he was performing a play while still serving lyrical intensity and pop. Twill Distilled has the sweetest voice in the whole group, but her words are sweeeet in a totally different way. Her words and delivery are clever and fiery. For lack of better words, she knows how to put some stank on a beat! Last but certainly not least is Lady J. This girl kills! She has an aggressive style when she comes through, it’s a straight shot no chaser. She is lyrically smooth and demands that you come correct when she comes through, which is fine by me.
The overall sound of the group is exactly what one would imagine nerdcore to be. I’m a newbie to the genre so bear with me on that. As I said before, nerdcore is a genre based on hip-hop and all things nerd. Hip-hop is a genre was started by African Americans in the 70s that pairs stylized rhythmic music with rapping. Hip-hop the culture is energetic, filled with social commentary, wordplay, and politics. Staying true to the hip-hop roots, nerdcore embodies all those things and inserts nerd culture.
Nerd culture itself, just like mainstream culture, is filled with diversity and social issues. There is a lot of fun to be had with nerds, cons, cosplay, and festivals, but there are also negative specks of mainstream culture in there too. There is racism, sexism, and to be lighthearted con hangover (the day after the convention is over and you return to real life). That’s where nerdcore comes in. It can be the escape we need to remember the high points of nerd culture such as enjoying a good round of Super Smash Bros or the hotel parties at con that lead to hilarious stories (#LavaBooty and those gummy bears in tubs from Katsucon), but just like hip-hop it also can play a pivotal role in bringing attention to issues we need to fix.
Am I saying all nerdcore groups and rappers have a duty to being the social commentators we need to call out the issues and dweebs who make nerd culture hard? No, I’m not saying that. What I’m saying is that out of the nerd-based genres I know of, nerdcore gets nerd culture in the coolest and strongest way. Nerdcore is clever, witty, snarky, and bold. By using nerdy inside jokes, metaphors, and other forms of nerdy knowledge, the artist themselves can speak to a group of people who are sometimes overlooked and or misunderstood. Music connects people to each other and gives a sense of belonging and comfort. Various genres do that, but it’s special when a genre or sound is specifically geared towards you and performed by someone who is just like you. Their authenticity and genuine love for what they preach resonates deep within and bonds you to the moment, the ones who created the moment, and those you’re sharing that moment with.
By no means am I saying Wreck The System are pioneers in the genre of nerdcore, but they are a valuable volume in the long history of nerdcore and hip-hop alike. If they are a sign of the times, along with many others, I can see nerdcore being a strong medium in the nerd community.
Check out WTS’ latest music video, Hotel Party. I also interviewed the group and dropped the audio here for your listening pleasure. I HIGHLY recommend giving it a listen and getting to know the group as a whole and individually!