MC Frontalot is one of the key figures at the forefront of the subgenre known as nerdcore. Recently, he released his seventh full-length album, Net Split, or the Fathomless Heartbreak of Online Itself. We caught up with him during SXSW to talk about the album, the concept behind it, working with a new generation of nerdcore artists, and more.
Scratched Vinyl: You just release the new album.
MC Frontalot: Yeah! One week ago, today!
SV: Net Split. Kind of a concept album about the Internet…
MC Frontalot: I’m calling it a breakup record about my relationship with the Internet.
SV: How did the idea for the theme come about?
MC Frontalot: I just had a chorus – or maybe I had a verse, for “Never Read the Comments.” Like six years ago. I remember drunkenly pulling Jesse Dangerously aside at the final Nerdapalooza afterparty, and being like, “Oh, you’re going to like this!” And then, I kept having ideas for common Internet warnings and complaints and gripes that particularly us old folks indulge in when we think of our beloved Internet, and how irritating it has become. Then I thought I’d make a whole record – I always wanted to make a concept record, so this seemed like a good opportunity for that.
SV: Going into it, one of the things I appreciate about the album is that while on the surface it can seem like, “Oh, I’m a grumpy old man complaining about the Internet,” there’s actually a lot more nuance to it.
MC Frontalot: Oh, thanks! I hope so.
SV: In the course of creating it, was there certain steps or checks you put on yourself to make yourself go beyond, “Twitter is awful!”
MC Frontalot: No – whenever you’re making a set of songs that you want to be a record, and doubly so if you’ve got a theme or a concept that you’re trying to flesh out, as they accumulate, you start to see holes in your tapestry that you need to weave back together. I remember I had to rewrite “Never Read the Comments,” as I expanded the set of songs, because I had covered too much territory in that one, and I wanted each song to focus on its own gripe or conceptual zone. There was one thing that got cut from the original list of songs, which was “Libertarians are Assholes,” which was going to be on there, but I realized I had too many libertarian friends who are somehow not assholes. Couldn’t quite bear to lump them in.
SV: You couldn’t find the angle to make it work?
MC Frontalot: I just imagined the look on their faces, and I let that one go. I suppose if I had a verse about Jack Dorsey and John McAfee, I could have probably pulled it off without offending anyone I actually like.
SV: When you’re creating an album like this, you did have a specific sound in mind, to be like “This is what the Internet sounds like?”
MC Frontalot: I did have a couple of things I was trying to do. I have a few tracks on here that are way stripped down compared to what I usually do. And plenty of others that are not – I did want to play around a little bit more. But all of my records end up with the same idea sonically, which is to have everything on it sound different from each other, so that the generally feeling is that you have a mixtape full of songs from different bands that seem like they could only find one rapper to do the feature.
SV: In the course of making this, did you ever find yourself going down a rabbit hole that you didn’t expect? Was there a song that drew you in that you were like, “I didn’t know I was going to end up here?”
MC Frontalot: I started writing the dating profile song, and I threw those lyrics away several times and started over. It was – and the stuff that remained in it was just as much the stuff that was wrong with the stuff that I threw out, which was that it was too real. Too much exactly like my pathetic old trying-to-date-in-my-early-40s online experience was. The way I ended up getting around that was turning it into a sci-fi story where AI’s are taking over your dating life and doing it for you, and you just watch. So no one would accuse me of actually existing in this sci-fi story, so I figured I could then have these secret bits of bare honesty and vulnerability sprinkled in there. If you get dazzled by the Asimov there, everything will be alright.
SV: So no one’s going to listen to it and be like, “Wait – was that my date?”
MC Frontalot: I don’t even get into meeting a real live person in that song’s narrative, it’s all about struggling to move your romantic hopes into a set of input fields and photographs from your folder, trying to invent yourself as a webpage, when what you want to be is a human heart.
SV: One weird thing about making an album about breaking up with the Internet – you’re releasing an album in 2019. You’re going to have to deal with digital distribution.
MC Frontalot: Oh yeah. My rap career is like – I’ve been touring now, for twelve years, and that’s gone better than I could hope. But, it’s an Internet endeavor, my rap career – for the most part, I feel. It started that way, it continues to be that way, and it’s not like I put down – when you walked in here, I had my nose to the screen. It’s what I did when I took my glasses off and tried to fall asleep and poked at the screen and when I woke up, before I put my glasses or lifted my head from the pillow, I was making sure the world hadn’t disappeared from Twitter, and then checking some email, texting somebody, you know? The relationship is never going to be over. It’s one of those relationships where you tell all your friends you’re breaking up, but then you keep fucking behind the dumpster.
SV: Fair enough! On a different note, on the album there are a few collaborations that might be expected, but there are also a few that might not seem as obvious, one of them being Quelle Chris. How did you hook up with him?
MC Frontalot: I met him when he started dating Jean Grae – they’re now married. They’re an indie hip hop power couple! A couple of intensely talented musicians. That’s how we started hanging out, and I was lucky enough that he wanted to do not one, but two things with me for the record. That beat on the “DDoS” song is mostly him. That was out of his excellent sense of how to build a scary-ass sounding ominous beat.
SV: One of the most interesting songs on the album, in my opinion, features a whole host of collaborators, “IWF,” or “Internetting While Female.” How did the song come together, and how did you assemble that group of women to help the song come into fruition?
MC Frontalot: Um…A woman I was seeing briefly was like, “You know what rap song you should do?” And people with limited or no interest in my rap career often start sentences that way – “You know what you should do a song about?” And it’s usually not a particularly good idea. But then this one really was! “You should do a song about Internetting while female. I just read a thing that had that title, and it’s such a rich topic.” And I was like, “You know, that would be a rich topic!” I was already working on songs for the record, so it was not a random good idea, but one for this album. I was like, “I’ve heard that phrase, too.” So I Googled it, and the top result was an article that Anita Sarkessian had written for…I don’t know what. Some print magazine, I think. [Editor’s note: It was Marie Claire] I was like, “Oh, this is great, because I’ve met Anita, we have friends in common, maybe I could get her – maybe she sings and I could get her on the hook, or maybe she’d do a skit with me that leads into the song. And then also I could do more character work and examine the horrifying shitty manchildren in verse. Not just like – when you’re doing an album that’s criticizing a thing, you gotta have the evil people as characters. Show, don’t tell in your creative writing. Plus, it’s fun to rip apart your critical target in your own voice. So I was like, “Okay, I can be the garbage boy,” and I can get a bunch of women to present their rebuttals, and/or describe their actual experience in a setting that’s about the confrontation, not a setting that they’re having to do their own song and present their feelings. Because boys are traditionally hostile towards absorbing that piece of information in that format. Whereas, if I give it to them, they’ll have to suck it up. So that was the idea. And I just hit up all the women I could think of that might say yes. Not all of them. The first few said yes.
SV: I’m assuming they all had experiences ready to go.
MC Frontalot: I mean, I told them about the song, and then told them what I was hoping for, and they all just hit it out of the park. And then to drive it home, I made sure that the man gets the last word, as well, verse-wise. Even within the song, they’re not safe.
SV: One of the artists on the song is Lex the Lexicon artist, who we could say is the newest generation of nerdcore.
MC Frontalot: Yeah! A recent entrant.
SV: How do you feel, as to the relationship as someone who was at the forefront of the subgenre, now you’re working with someone who could come up on nerdcore?
MC Frontalot: Having come up with this term like nineteen years ago, my ongoing fear is that it will just peter out and be something from the past that is less relevant than it ever was. So it thrills me nonstop when someone appears and is getting attention. I always, when I can, when I find new nerdcore folks who are good, will try to find a way to get them on a record and feature them and help spread the word.
SV: So you feel the need to bring together the generations?
MC Frontalot: For sure! That should be the goal for any small genre. We’re all in this together.
SV: Y’all are out here at SXSW right now. Are there any more tours or other projects that people should be looking for?
MC Frontalot: I’ve got a video…I’m trying to find the right fit for somebody to premier it, but it’s in the can. That should be in the next week or two. I’ve got Boston on the 31st, and Manhattan the 5th of April, then we do the third leg of the Mount Nerdcore tour…we’re wandering all over the Midwest and South…and there will be a vinyl release of Net Split when I get my proverbial shit together.
SV: Finally, I’ll leave you with the question I ask everyone which is – If there were three artists that you could work with that you haven’t, who would that be?
MC Frontalot: MF DOOM…Fatlip, and Tom Waits.
To learn more about MC Frontalot, visit:https://frontalot.com/