Saturday, November 7, 2009

MC Lars: Serious Goofiness

Now I finally realize the essential difference between all those hipsters and me. How could I have possibly missed MC Lars and his post-punk laptop rap album “This Gigantic Robot Kills” this year?

I am a confirmed nerd: English Major? Check. Former D&D Fanatic? Check. Chess Player? Check. Avid Reader? Check. College Debater? Check. So how could I have missed the latest hit in the nerd-core hip-hop genre? Didn’t I get the message when I heard previous tracks like “The Raven” and “Ahab,” which are based respectively on Edgar Allen Poe’s eerie poem and Melville’s endless tome Moby Dick?

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a lyrics guy. Don’t get me wrong, just like everyone else I listen to music primarily for the sound. But when I take off on a wave of resonance that elevates me to a higher plane of existence the last thing I want to hear is some lame cliché repeated about fifty times. I must admit that I have my guilty goofy dance hall pop pleasures, but the music that I come to know and love, the music that becomes a part of my life, must have something more.

The places in which I find this sublime blend of music and lyrics are varied. I can find solace in anything from Bob Marley to Sage Francis to Benjamin Gibbard, and a thousand tracks in between. But the one thing that all of my favorites have in common is that they give me something to think about while I follow their muse through dark twisted alleyways, get lifted up on soaring breezes, or moved to dance to pounding beats.

Which is not to say that MC Lars' latest effort is stuffy, intellectual fare. He skillfully samples plenty of punk, ska, and hip hop loops to keep you moving, sprinkles in funny clips from viral YouTube videos (“Don’t tase me bro!”), drops enough pop culture references to make US Weekly jealous, and isn’t afraid to lay down plenty of goofy joke tracks, which have become his trademark. But what’s remarkable is how he fuses into this hip-hop mish mash so many literary references. And not in a merely name-dropping sense, either. He actually seems to understand what these writers wrote, and incorporates their ideas into his post-punk madness in ways that are pretty compelling.

Think about it. When was the last time you heard a hip-hop song that references Bukowski, Emerson, the legend of King Arthur, and Descartes while still finding time to drop references to random pop culture icons like Kobe Bryant and Hot Topic? Or better yet, when was the last time you heard an entire song the lyrics of which revolve around the murder, revenge, Oedipal incest, unrequited love, suicide, more murder, and general insanity of Shakespeare’s Hamlet?

It all makes sense once you learn that MC Lars (or Andrew Nielson as his mother saw fit to call him) has a degree in English Literature from Stanford, and he studied at Oxford. This is a genuinely smart dude who has found a unique niche in the less-than-profitable world of twenty-first century American music. More power to him.

Lars is a self-consciously “white” rapper and he does have multiple self-referential moments including most obviously his self-deprecating “White Kids Aren’t Hyphy.” This catchy track includes a shout out to Sage Francis, a master of intelligent flow from the East Coast who shares Lars’ melanin-deficiency but raps on the opposite shore and with a lot more severity and grimness.

Lars also recently tweeted props to the “mid-era work” of Eminem and despite the obvious differences between the two (Lars’ PG lyrics for one thing) some people can’t seem to help but see a similarity. I think the comparison is apt, but there is one big difference. Both are clever. But MC Lars is also seriously smart.

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