When MC Frontalot (born Damien Hess) coined the term "nerdcore," which inspired his 2000 single "Nerdcore Hiphop," he wasn't part of a movement. But around then, when artists like YTCracker and MC Hawking became more visible alongside Frontalot and MC Chris, a phenomenon emerged, inspiring two 2008 documentaries: Nerdcore Rising and Nerdcore For Life. The label has come to describe a certain kind of rapping, superficially about nerdy pursuits but containing salient (if surreal) social and political commentary.
As one of the pioneers of a movement, Frontalot (due tonight, August 25th, at Larimer Lounge) hasn't rested on his laurels, and his albums have become increasingly collaborative affairs. Frontalot's new album, Question Bedtime, available tomorrow, pushes the collaborative element even further.
The art of storytelling has long been a part of hip-hop, whether that be the use of classic stories or the evocation of a personal or geographical myth. Frontalot decided to go way back and draw from fairy tales as the kinds of stories that seem to make their way, in one form or another, around the world.
"One of the things I really like about fairy tales is that everyone who adapts fairy tales -- and they have been ever since literacy got popular -- brings something to it," he says. "It's not like everyone is adapting something that has a firm, original form. Everyone's sort of drawing it out of everything they've ever heard about, say, 'Little Red Riding Hood.' Because there are really popular written versions: There's one in Grimm's Fairy Tales. There are versions that people think of as being the most influential on our current ideas on 'Little Red Riding Hood.' But maybe 'Little Red Riding Hood' is from India or China or made its way there somehow in pre-colonial times."
"Fairy tales are all about this weird, scary, nether time between the responsibilities and terrors of adulthood and the innocence of childhood which you're trying to escape even though it's kind of wonderful," he says. "But you want to get rid of it because it's better to be an adult, obviously. It's an album for alternative tweens -- altweenative!"
In coming up with material for the album, Frontalot enlisted the help of comedians and Nerdcore Rising co-director Negin Farsad in performing improv skits throughout the record. What emerged in hearing these various contributions was an idea that Frontalot had about how adults might respond to a babysitter, and how it's similar in some ways, at least emotionally, to how a child responds to controlling influences.
"When you're getting babysat you have all those same feelings and reactions to being told to go to bed and how much sugar you can have," explains Frontalot. "But you have no agency and you don't understand yet how to agree or refuse or what those things really mean. You always have to do what adults say. So improvising for this album I came up with the unifying concept of the record, Question Bedtime. Challenge the authority of bed time."
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If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.