Authenticity Vs. Novelty & A Newish LP

Posted on August 10th, 2020

Filed under: General,Music News — Karl Olson @ 6:47 am

Time for another reaction blog to a great YouTube video that muses justifiably on the difference between Anime Rap and Nerdcore as thematic approaches, and yet again, what started as a YouTube comment became a blog post.

After all, even in Nerdcore itself, there’s been a long-running debate between what’s “Book Report Rap,” where someone is writing in character or summarizing a story vs. nerdy/otaku-centric media and topics as a referential lens for rapping about personal experiences vs. perhaps still nerdy personal experiences (cons, coding, hacking, etc.) as the topic. It’s debated because those differences may determine what’s more explicitly commercial rather than being artistically minded first, or rather, what’s being made out of novelty versus what made out of authenticity (assuming such separation can ever be made.) I don’t think that debate has ever settled out.

Many successful nerd/otaku-adjacent artists, regardless of their self-applied label of choice, really work over a spectrum between the various extremes depending on the song or project. Where they usually land on average has less to do with their level of admiration of Rap as a creative artist as the video implies, (though yes, some folks are really just trying to pander to nerds first,) but more to do with their personal processes and experiences. I think anyone trying to make a polished, professional track probably loves rap in the same I’d a say a Backpacker and a Trap artist both love Rap, but they each express it very differently. Maybe the purely novelty artists are consistently identifiable, but they don’t seem more common under any given label.

Still, it’s understandable how tremendously unsatisfactory that vague conclusion is when artists are trying to brand and market their work, as unclear scene boundaries and labels can result in the dilution of search results and listener confusion. When listeners craving novelty and levity suddenly encounter something more challenging, they get very upset because as the video alludes to, they’re not always genre fans, they’re fans of some medium (anime, comics, video games, etc.) first. Conversely, when someone who likes the tone to be serious encounters the slightest novelty, it can then scan as cornball and can sour a scene name or brand or genre or whatever forever to them. This creates legitimate tension in both directions – no one wants their plans undermined by another artist’s vision or aesthetic.

Alas, even decades into this, I don’t have the answer for where novelty stops and authenticity begins, because it is so personal and variable. As I note in the header, I’ve got a newish LP out, based on an EP mixtape that was originally very anime-themed and even had samples from those works. In turning it into an album, I pulled out the samples and pulled in some remixes of songs that also thematically fit because they were also very anime-themed. Now, on one hand, it’s probably rather novel – there’s lots from the perspective of anime characters covering many of their respective series’ plot beats. On the other hand, my love of those anime and of Rap is very core to me. It’s nothing if not authentic, and it can’t be helped in the slightest. Further still, there’s an aspect of simultaneous, shared perspective in a lot of those songs too, making distinctions of novelty and authenticity that much murkier as it’s not a question of writing in character or as myself – it’s very intentionally as both because the experiences are that close, that relatable.

So, I guess can’t and won’t blame anyone for saying what I do doesn’t fit their vision for a given signifier regarding Nerdcore or Anime Rap or whatever. It’s only natural in the absence of strong sonic boundaries to look for thematic ones, but those by definition are going to be very personal. Still, I think all we can do is trust that when an artist applies a signifier on themselves, that they’re doing it from an authentic place, especially in heavily independent scenes and genres.

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