mc chris v. Astronautalis: a "Rap Battle"

by Jack Diablo
I recently had the opportunity to check out two very different but related acts. On May 11th, mc chris played Jack Rabbits along with hometown heroes, Whole Wheat Bread. Later that same week, another Jacksonville local, Astronautalis, made a prodigal return to his hometown alongside fellow rapper and collaborator, Bleubird.
At first glance, one might think to impulsively lump these two acts into the same category. They are after all, white dudes in the hip hop world. But aside from being somewhat racist in the first place, such generalizations are completely inaccurate and unfair to both performers. After all, Eminem didn’t sound like Vanilla Ice, and he didn’t sound like the Beastie Boys either. And neither mc chris or Astronautalis sound anything like any of these or each other.
mc chris falls neatly into the genre of nerdcore, a style of hip-hop that exalts the works of George Lucas, World of Warcraft, Dungeons & Dragons, and practically everything considered geeky. Not to be confused with sci-fi laden rhymings of acts like Deltron or Dr. Octagon, nerdcore is overtly nerdy as opposed to abstract or scientific. You may have even heard mc chris before and not even realized it. He has lent his voice (and his rhymes) to Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim program, Aqua Teen Hunger Force. His character, MC Pee Pants, plays a reoccurring role on the show and appeared in the movie as well. He has also done voice acting for Sealab 2021 and tackled some writing on episodes of The Brak Show and Space Ghost: Coast to Coast.
Being an avid ATHF fan and a pretty big nerd to boot, I was pretty stoked for the show. I had never seen Whole Wheat Bread perform by themselves either. But despite my enthusiasm, my expectations were far too high and the whole thing was pretty disappointing.
I can’t rag on Whole Wheat Bread. They rep the hell out of Duval and they are excellent musicians. I was extremely impressed by their collaborative work with MURS as, The Invincible(s) when I saw them at Harvest of Hope. When they combine hip hop with punk rock, it really works. Even the punk versions of hip hop covers are strangely entertaining. But their pop punk is generic and altogether unimpressive. But they seem to be doing pretty well for themselves and the crowd ate it up, chanting along and repping their own Duval neighborhoods from Arlington to Riverside.
To be honest, I didn’t even stick around for all of mc chris’ show. His performance was dull and his nasally voice has a way of grinding on your nerves after a while. Trust me when I say that the novelty of sounding like you’ve just inhaled a ballon full of helium wares off with a quickness. Just before I left, he went on a tirade about video game something-or-other that lasted entirely too long but he did make a pretty valid point that hopefully struck close to home with some members of the audience. He was talking about playing Halo or some other multiplayer Xbox Live game and how he was angered by an opponent who was hiding. I don’t have the exact quote but the gist of it was that if you’re already hiding from the world when you play video games, you can’t hide in video games too. Sage and poignant words but other than that, it sucked.
I tried not to let the experience get me down or permanently influence my opinion of what suburban white kids can do with a microphone and a MacBook full of beats, but my soul was fairly crushed. Luckily, Astronautalis and Bleubird were able to undo the damage mc chris had caused in a single evening of genuinely great hip hop.
Heavily influenced by both gangster rap and indie rock, Andy Bothwell aka Astronautalis, is one local who’s managed to break out on a national level and done so with his dignity intact. His rhymes are heady and original without being silly and his performance is animated and fun. His vocals could be considered a mixture of Beck and Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse At several times during the show he crafted freestyles, taking a few words from various members of the audience and making lyrical magic out of them. During Bleubird’s set, Andy doubled as “hype man” by sitting in a chair and backing up the vocals, a duty reciprocated by Bleubird during the Astronautalis set. The chemistry between these two was pretty electric. The self-proclaimed “hip hop husbands” giggled at inside jokes like a couple of girls at a slumber party in a way that made the tour van seem like a pretty entertaining place to be.
When these two aren’t performing as themselves, they team up to form Boyfriends Inc. and towards the end of the show we were treated to their song, “Lookin’ Kitty”, a hilarious piece based on those adorable LOLcat pics. Look up the video on YouTube and you’ll see what I’m talking about. While, you’re at it check out Astronautalis’ video for ‘Trouble Hunters’, filmed here in Jacksonville and starring some other notable persons in the Jacksonville music scene.
For whatever reason, the booking gods saw it fit to pair these two hip hop heads with the unlikely opening act of Rachel Goodrich. For one night only, this group that isn’t even remotely hip hop played fun folky music replete with ukulele and kazoo. And the shocker was, it was surprisingly well received. When she wasn’t taking pulls from her pint of Wild Turkey, Rachel Goodrich was making herself right at home in this particularly bizarre circumstance. The crowd was receptive and eager to participate, giving due credit to this supremely talented Miami act.
In the end it all boils down to enjoying music about the stuff you’re into. If first-person shooters and LAN parties are your bag, you’ll probably find that mc chris speaks your language. Otherwise, Astronautalis has won this particular rap battle.