When nerdcore hip-hopper Tribe One returns to the Triangle next week, serving as one of the openers for the “Revenge of the Nerd 2 Tour” show in Carrboro on Tuesday, there is one place that he will definitely visit.
“There’s a really great comic book shop right down the street,” says Tribe One, referring to Chapel Hill Comics.
The Bay Area-born, Atlanta-based Tribe One isn’t pretending to be a nerdcore rapper to get the fanboys and nerdy chicks on his side.
Oh no – the boy is a full-fledged geek. He says he has 15 long boxes and 20 short boxes full of comic books. The crimson Tyrannosaurus rex that appears on his T-shirts and website banner was inspired by the short-lived Marvel comic book character Devil Dinosaur. He has hundreds of video games from nearly every system – but, unfortunately, no ColecoVision stuff.
“Nah, no ColecoVision,” says Tribe One, 31, on the phone from a Super 8 Motel in New Mexico. “I’m not that official.”
As for the rapping, it began in sixth grade, when Tribe One (known then as Niles Gray) became obsessed with rap albums such as Snoop Dogg’s “Doggystyle” and Kris Kross’ “Totally Krossed Out.”
“That was, like, hugely influential to the young Tribe One,” he says. “Like, ‘Oh man, I wanna do this too.’ So, I would memorize songs and perform songs from those records for my friends.”
He began writing original rap songs in eighth grade – songs which he calls “universally terrible.”
“I kept doing it, and I would listen to more and more rap, more kinds of rap, and taking influences whenever I could,” he says.
By the time he got to college, he was good enough to get his own group going, called The Remnant.
Tribe One continues to record and release music with his collegiate rap crew. In fact, he is a performer who enjoys working with others.
He and Irish producer/mixer Rocky O’Reilly have a project called “Malibu Shark Attack.” A release from them will drop at the end of September. Physical copies will be available at Tuesday’s show.
“It just turned out to be, like, well the most challenging project I’ve ever written because, for the most part, they’re really not rap beats,” Tribe One says. “And, then, it’s just good music – like, really, really rap music.”
He also has been collaborating with Memphis’ Adam WarRock, a fellow nerdcore rapper, for a side project called “Silver Age.” It was his collaborations with WarRock that made Tribe One start experimenting with nerdcore.
“I did come in late,” he admits. “I only found out about it a couple of years ago. I’d say it’s hip-hop that’s not as concerned about being cool as it is about being fun.”
While he may spit bars about nerdy, sundry matters, occasionally penning rhymes about outcasts and the things that keep them going, Tribe insists that he isn’t doing anything new in the rap game.
“Well, I always say nerd hip-hop has always been around,” he says. “I mean, you go back to ‘Rapper’s Delight’ from The Sugarhill Gang, and there’s a whole verse about how Big Bank Hank is trying to get with Lois Lane and he’s trying to get her to break up with Superman because he’s a loser and a nerd – and he’s a super-pimp or whatever.”
When Tribe One’s tour is over, he’ll complete his full-length debut, “Dirty South Swamp Thing.” (A “Dirty South Swamp Thing” EP is available on his Bandcamp page.) He says when that drops, it will include two companion songs inspired by the “All-Star Superman” and “All-Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder” comics.
“ ‘All-Star Superman’ is the single greatest Superman story that’s ever been written,” he says, “and ‘All-Star Batman’ is the single worst Batman story that’s ever been written.”
Ultimately, Tribe One wants to make a comfortable living rapping about what he knows, have fun while he’s doing it, and make stops at various comic book stores along the way.
“I hope I have a long career, I guess, of making good music and the kind of stuff I would want to hear,” he says.