Music News & Reviews

MC Lars brings hip-hop and punk-pop to Cat’s Cradle

MC Lars plays Wednesday at Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro.
MC Lars plays Wednesday at Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro. NICK KARP

A few weeks ago, we talked to a young rapper named K.Flay. She discussed how after a couple of years of inaction on the part of her major label, she went to a crowdfunding site in order to release her debut album.

She may have picked up that DIY spirit from another rapper: MC Lars. “I helped her get her start,” says the 32-year-old, Berkeley, Calif.-born performer. “I went to college with her (at Stanford).”

Kickstarter funding

According to Lars (real name: Andrew Robert MacFarlane Nielsen), the only way he can get any hip-hop product off the ground is to go straight to the people. “If it weren’t for Kickstarter, I would’ve definitely stopped doing this, like, at least five years ago,” he says.

Lars has gone to the Kickstarter well a few times; the site has funded several of his EPs and full-lengths. “Basically, any indie artist really doesn’t have any money, and labels are all kind of dead,” he says. “So, it’s either that or I quit and, like, become a teacher or something. So, crowdfunding has been great. But you don’t really don’t make money from crowdfunding. You actually lose money, because it’s so expensive to ship and record everything.”

As someone who has seen many people (like K.Flay) have bad experiences with labels, Lars knows he wouldn’t work well at a major. “What I do, I guess, is so niche-y and so, like, for such a small audience that no big label or corporation would ever really make sense to partner with me,” he says. “So, it’s the only way to do stuff my own way and to keep going, you know.”

Nerdcore

Lars isn’t kidding when he says his music is “niche-y.” The kind of MC who drops an EP full of tunes about Edgar Allan Poe – which includes such head-bobbers as “(Rock) the Bells,” “Mr. Raven” and “Lenore (I Miss You)” – Lars prefers to bring an educated, cerebral swagger whenever he steps to the mic.

“My first-ever song was a rap song about ‘Macbeth’ that I did for a project for high school in my sophomore year,” he remembers. “And I just realized that’s something that really affects people, because everyone loves – or everyone gets – Shakespeare. Everyone understands the meter and the poetry of Poe. But when you put a breakbeat under that, it’s really powerful, the teaching thing. And it makes people understand. It’s like, that was the oral culture of the 19th century, and Kanye West and Jay-Z, for better or worse, fits the oral culture of 2014. So, it’s fun to me to make those connections.”

Needless to say, Lars has been hit with the nerdcore tag for most of his rapping career. “It’s something I’ve really fought for years,” he says. “I guess nerdcore is synonymous for white, suburban rap and that’s kind of what I was associated with.” These days, it doesn’t bother him as much. He even bought the nerdcoretour.com URL for the tour he’s on with nerdcore king mc chris (which will make a stop in Carrboro this Wednesday). “It’s kind of, like, something that just really defines what we do. It helps brand it, so I’m fine with the term.”

‘Zombie Dinosaur’

But Lars doesn’t just fraternize with his fellow nerdcore rappers. A former punk-rock band bassist, Lars has collaborated with such bands as Wheatus, Bowling for Soup and punk legends the Dead Milkmen on his previous projects. “I mean, I think what I do is just as much pop-punk as it is hip-hop,” he says.

Lars will continue to have more of that rock element on his upcoming release, “The Zombie Dinosaur LP,” which he also funded with help from Kickstarter. So, is it safe to say he’ll mostly be talking about zombies and dinosaurs on this album? “Basically,” he says, “the metaphor there is I feel like a zombie dinosaur in this industry, because it’s like I won’t ever stop and I’m just going along slowly and doing my thing.”

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