As Chuck D of Public Enemy memorably put it, "Hip-hop is the CNN of the ghetto." While it serves that purpose, hip-hop started as a much broader genre and eventually, after emerging from the wasteland of gangsta, regained part of that potential. Hip-hop can be about anything, as proven and embodied by MC Frontalot, a proud nerd who takes the stage in glasses, tie, and pocket protector to rap about webcomics, computer games, blogs, and picking up girls at Star Wars conventions.
MC Frontalot was born Damian Hess in San Francisco. He grew up in Berkeley where, as a teenage rap wannabe, he secretly four-tracked his own songs on tape. While working as a web designer in 1999, he resurrected his rap hobby by creating a website for MP3s of his homemade music, the beats credited to the imaginary DJ CPU. In a song of the same name he coined the phrase "nerdcore hip-hop" to describe his music about the geeky subject matter closest to his heart. Other artists like Dream Warriors, MF Doom, and Deltron 3030 had explored geek-related themes previously in their music, but by naming it, MC Frontalot made it a subgenre of its own. Other nerdcore rappers would later follow in his footsteps, including MC Lars, Optimus Rhyme, MC Hawking, and YTCracker. Several of his early songs were entries in the weekly Song Fight! competitions at songfight.org, in which amateur musicians would write songs with the same title and listeners would then vote for the best of them. Each time he entered as MC Frontalot, he won. In 2002 the extremely popular webcomic Penny Arcade also gave him their seal of approval, declaring MC Frontalot to be their official rapper and giving his popularity a boost. He recorded the song "Penny Arcade Theme" as a tribute to them, which later appeared in the video game In the Groove.
After moving to New York, where a musical he had written for Emerald Rain Productions called Young Zombies in Love was featured at the International Fringe Festival in 2004, he recorded his first MC Frontalot album. Nerdcore Rising was released independently — ascribed to Level Up Records & Tapes — in 2005 at the Penny Arcade Expo. The post-album concerts were his first tour, an experience caught on film by Negin Farsad. Sales of CDs and merchandise as well as guest appearances like his role as TP Factory Rapper on the Elmo's Potty Time DVD enabled Hess to leave his day job behind and focus on creating music, including his 2007 album, Secrets from the Future. Negin Farsad's documentary Nerdcore Rising: The Movie, which also featured MC Chris, Prince Paul, J-Live, Jello Biafra, and Weird Al Yankovic, premiered at the SXSW festival in 2008. ~ Jody Macgregor