Quick Chord: Veteran nerdcore rapper MC Lars talks hip-hop, literature and his new album, “The Zombie Dinosaur LP”
In 2003, the first commercially-released MC Lars album hit stores. Before that, he and his laptop were opening for indie and punk bands in England, pursuing rap while studying literature at Oxford. Before that, he was in a punk band. Before that, some other things happened too, but let’s jump ahead to 2006.
“The Graduate,” Lars’ 2006 follow-up, featured lyrical jabs at record industry cliches (“Singing Emo”), tech culture (“iGeneration”) and Hot Topic (“Hot Topic is not Punk Rock”). The release established Lars as one of the loudest voices in nerdcore—a sub-genre of hip-hop that combines referential lyrics, topical samples and cultural subject matter to create something entirely unique. To Lars, the melding of hip-hop and nerd culture makes complete sense considering the parallels that can be drawn between the two.
“What I love about hip-hop is its storytelling, but it’s also about the struggle—about survival. I guess nerd culture is about that too,” Lars said. “They’re very similar in that way. What I love about hip-hop is, when it’s old school like KRS-One, Public Enemy and Nas, they’re all so smart. I think that’s why hip-hop is so conducive to nerd culture.”
Lars used the storytelling aspects of hip-hop to full effect on his last album, 2011’s “Lars Attacks!,” which he described as an introspective and spiritual endeavor. He described the album he’s releasing Nov. 6, “The Zombie Dinosaur LP,” as a return to the themes of “The Graduate” and 2009’s “This Gigantic Robot Kills.”
“The Zombie Dinosaur LP” was fully-funded through a Kickstarter campaign and was produced with the help of friends in California. It features guest vocals from numerous artists, including Leftover Crack frontman Stza on the album’s eponymous track “Zombie T-Rex,” Brian Mazzaferri of I Fight Dragons on “If I Were a Jedi (That Would Be Hella Awesome)” and Kool Keith on “The Dip,” a tribute to “Roger Rabbit” and a tour de force for Lars’ flow.
Lars said he recorded between 30 and 40 songs for the new LP and picked the best 13.
“Bukowski said you can’t know if what you wrote is good unless you look back and reread it two weeks later, so I was always balancing a bunch of different songs,” Lars said. “When I’m doing an album I’m very disciplined. I’ll set a timer and try to do eight to 10 hours a day of writing. I always like to start with the beat, because the rhythm of the drums informs your cadences and your flow. Then I treat it like an essay, because your chorus is going to be your thesis.”
If Lars’ writing method sounds like he’s prepping a short story, that’s because he sees hip-hop as the oral culture of a certain group of people — a continuation of the human storytelling tradition. He has taken the stage at two TEDx conferences and Scholastic’s 2012 Art and Writing Awards to draw parallels between hip-hop’s structure and classical poets like Poe, Shakespeare and Dickinson.
Lars’ material is informed by a variety of cultures, genres, trends and movements, but his respect for hip-hop and his fanbase is prevalent through research and song structure. “The Zombie Dinosaur LP” features commentary on hipster parenting (“Hipster Mom,” a pseudo-sequel to his 2009 song “Hipster Girl”) and an ode to “Simpson’s” character Hans Moleman (who Lars said may be symbolic of his career), but behind all the referential material is a talented, seasoned MC with a wit that gets sharper with age. “The Zombie Dinosaur LP” comes out Nov. 6 and can be found on a variety of formats, including cassette.
Cassettes are so ’90s hip-hop. Hipster mom would be proud.
Reach Gene Axton at 570-991-6121 or on Twitter @TLArts