Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Track Tales Tuesday: What are your Blank Pages?

As a genre, Nerdcore is usually pigeonholed. The most frequent culprit is, unfortunately, the artists who identify with and accept the label. Their songs tend to be: video game, movie, television, video game, etc. Or, as intellectual-diss rapper Kabuto the Python spits in his song "Reference Desk:"
"Refer to shit that nerds like and you're the best in they mind
so the references are effortlessly peppered in mine." 
While Buto's outlook may be cynical, it's also true, and he manages to do something in those two lines that the large majority of nerdcore artists fail to do--fill the trappings they repeat with meaning.

Creating on a high-level requires more than outlines and mimicry. To a certain extent, what's inside the lines is what's lost in our culture. Nerdcore is just another form of this issue. Most people can roll with references, quoting lines and sometimes seeing parallels to their everyday life. Very few can understand what those quotes or parallels mean. It's the difference between Family Guy and American Dad. While both can be deathly amusing, American Dad is consistently funnier because the references add depth to their conflict. In contrast, Family Guy seems as random as manatees and beach balls.

Due to this tension, the more talented nerdcore artists are sometimes at odds with their ascribed label. Voice artist and rapper mc chris once created a controversy for trying to distance himself from the genre. Stanford graduate and nationally recognized MC Lars stirred another by declaring "Nerdcore Died." Beefyness, the self-declared crown prince of Nerdcore, questioned whether the genre was worth defending. The most recent artist to join this list is San Diego resident Dr. Awkward.

Like most nerdcore debuts, Doc's first album Unlimited featured video game reference after video game reference. One song was about meeting a girl at a LAN party, another was a love-song ode to three female Final Fantasy characters. While the album was enjoyable and had some shining moments (such as Timid and Geekquilibrium), it mainly felt like the labor of a quest for approval--the key word being labor. Since that album, Awkward has gained a loyal following, shed a record label, and re-evaluated his reasons for writing raps.

Blank Pages is the title track off of Dr. Awkward's second album. While the album still contains songs about cartoons, Star Wars, and superheroes, it also has songs about the difficulties of expressing love, the power of forgiveness, and yearning for a better world. Through it all, Awkward exposes the irony of his first album's title--"Joshua [his given name], truly you are limitless." On display is a man's fight to live the life he wants. He opens the song:
I feel this isn’t who I’m supposed to be
According to expectations of those close to me
This isn’t how I make the most of me
The man in the mirror is nothing but the ghost of me
Nerdcore carries with it a host of expectations. Awkward is talking about much more than that label however. In the first verse he delves into the expectations we place on ourselves due to family, culture and society, "Go to college, get a wife, and live the bored life." He ends the verse by turning to blank pages as the escape from that formula. The hook then declares that he's "breaking free of who he's supposed to be."

The second verse is a mediation on how to find direction when you're staring at nothingness. Cleverly he points out that there's no use in considering yourself as lost because happiness isn't a destination. He follows it up "Don’t have to search for happiness, it’s born of your creation." Part of the reason what's inside the lines is lost in our culture is we accept that the lines themselves have already been defined by other people. Doc is challenging that assumption, and us, when he ends the verse, "Don't let those be your blank pages."

The final verse, split in two by repetition of "I'm looking to these blank pages," is a declaration of motivation and passion. In it, Awkward lays out in a few lines what can only be truly understood through the process of constantly creating:
Take what you want this life is for the livin’
It won’t be handed to you, only death is givin’
Shake it off, shake it off, self-pitying is useless
There’s no endgame in your excuse
If you want something, it is you who must create it
Mimicking, repeating, referencing, these tactics can only get you so far--where everyone has already been. Don't misunderstand my point. I'm as big of a fan of a references as anyone. I love integrating them into my work. I do so though mainly as a source of humor, to point out the absurd parallels in our lives. Ultimately, despite all our similarities, we're each unique, so the lives we want and need haven't been lived or written out before us. That fact means we have to create our own paths.

With his second album Blank Page and its title track, Dr. Awkward is declaring "these are mine." He's proudly and admirably making the album he wants to, as he recently revealed, "I love everything on Blank Pages because it represents my life now wonderfully."

With the statement, he's also challenging his listeners: What are your Blank Pages?

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