A hip-hop playlist for the reluctant nerd 

Rick Snyder may have made the "nerd" moniker a bit passé, but these songs prove it's still possible to gleefully embrace the nerdier aspects of our experience.

"Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing ta F' Wit" | Wu-Tang Clan

Though now considered a pillar of mainstream hip-hop taste, Wu-Tang's unabashed incorporation of kung-fu (and other typical basement-dwelling topics) into their music set an eclectic precedent for the multitude of artists closely following the East Coast renaissance. In addition to the plethora of references in their music, Wu-Tang member The Genius has been a vocal proponent of chess for years. This fondly remembered track features the expected kung-fu skits, samples, and lyrical content, as well as a sly shout-out to comic book villain Dr. Doom.

"Rainbow in the Dark" | Das Racist

Born out of the Internet buzz surrounding a song that celebrated the majesty of a restaurant simultaneously a Pizza Hut and a Taco Bell, Das Racist's vibe was the delirious, exhausted fusion of psychedelic predilection and tech-savvy trolling; for one of their songs, the band released a so-called "music videogame" which the viewer could fail to finish if navigated improperly. In "Rainbow in the Dark," references to specific varieties of cave-aged cheese and information age anachronisms — Wikipedia Brown, anyone? — are sprinkled liberally over fuzzy electronic progressions reminiscent of time spent in filthy arcades. The lyrics can veer a bit too far into the bizarre and obscure; while listening, you sometimes get the impression that you're not supposed to know what's it's about, much like seeing "Don King playing Donkey Kong Country at his cousin's house."

"Unadventurer - Feat. Subtitle" | Daedelus

Experimental hip-hop producer Daedelus provides a dissonant and oddly bossa nova inspired background for the mesmerizingly precise enunciation of rapper Giovanni Marks, known as Subtitle before his near retreat from the industry in 2007. Subtitle's extreme attention to meter and near-immaculate use of grammar and syntax would satisfy even the strictest of linguists. The song chronicles the housebound plight familiar to many a nerd, a phobia that Subtitle's titular nerd turns on its head, claiming rather that "stationary development is what [he's] enveloped in." The unadventurer would still be more than willing to have a few fellows over for a night of jumping over pitfalls and listening to old Stan Getz vinyl.

"Hoe Cakes" | MF Doom

Any rapper who manages to drop references to both King Koopa and D.B. Cooper without missing a beat has little left to prove as far as nerd cred is concerned, especially when that artist is known for performing as a cadre of comic book and kaiju influenced personas. For MF Doom, the persona of Marvel's villainous Doctor Doom proved the perfect excuse to let loose his supersized ego and use any number of Saturday morning references. Though most of his tracks are riddled with references of this kind,

Hoe Cakes best proves that you can fly your freak flag high and still keep the rest of the content in line with the graphic expectations of mainstream hip-hop.

"Splash Woman" | Mega Ran

Mega Ran's embellished tale of a hero's struggle should ring a bell for any listeners familiar with the structure of a Mega Man game – as if his name didn't already give it away. Also rapping and producing under the name Random, Mega Ran uses the Mega Man persona much like MF Doom uses Doctor Doom's; the change here is the adoption of a heroic character as opposed to a villainous one, a difference reflected in the more whimsical and less commanding style of the artist. Mega Ran is also known for his frequent incorporation of chiptune elements into his music, a factor that places him firmly on the (somewhat pejoratively labeled) nerdcore end of the hip-hop spectrum. Well, technically his focus on Mega Man would classify him a nintendocore artist, but that might be splitting hairs too much for even his taste.

Guilty Pleasure Bonus Level: "Human Video Game" | DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince

The Fresh Prince's saccharine-sweet innocence and stiff vocals make the track a bit of a blush-inducing experience, even for a guilty pleasure. The rap-exactly-what-you-wrote-in-your-journal-in-the-order-that-you-wrote-it style is also somewhat embarrassing to listen to; this song could easily double as a lesson in exactly how not to compose an interesting narrative. Despite all the flaws, Ready Rock C's slowed down, beatboxed version of the music from the first stage of the Donkey Kong arcade cabinet is an electric bit of gaming nostalgia, as are his simulated sound effects. In defense of Will Smith, he did go on to star in blockbuster versions of some of the most beloved nerd franchises – well, beloved before he got to them, anyway.

More by Jay Lonski

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