DevScope

Cool Developer Tricks: Yo, Developers Rap

New documentary focuses on "nerdcore" and "coumputer science" rap.

Chicago filmmaker Dan Lamoureux is producing a documentary called "Nerdcore for Life" (http://nerdcoreforlife.com) that focuses on a new sub-genre of hip-hop music largely created by and for programmers and other techies. Lamoureux says some of the "nerdcore" and "computer science rap" artists featured in his film have gone on to perform on stage and even toured since he first started shooting two years ago. We corresponded with Lamoureux about the growing link between coding and rapping.

Why is hip-hop a good musical genre for programmers to express themselves?
One of the things that makes hip-hop so attractive to people in technical fields is that, unlike other forms of music, rap doesn't require that you learn how to play an instrument or form a band or leave your house or even get up from your desk. It's a great way for programmers to blow off some steam. When their work starts to make them nuts, they can just open up a music program, plug a mic into their computer and vent their frustrations through hip-hop.

Do these songs get into the technical details of programming, or are they more about the life of a software developer?
Computer science rap (or CS rap, as it's called) is really diverse. Some of it is very deeply technical with lyrics that will go far over the head of any layman. Other tracks, though, can be pretty personal and focus on the tribulations of the CS lifestyle. For programmers, the music is something they can really identify with, and for non-techies CS rap offers an interesting and often raw glimpse into what is pretty much an un-examined world. One track I really like, "Code Rage," is about a CS student who stays up all night "chasing the demons hiding in his code." The longer he stays up, though, the more weary he gets and the more mistakes he makes. So he's trapped in a vicious cycle.

Cite a few artists. What kind of day jobs do they have in the industry?
The undisputed father of CS rap is a graduate student at Purdue University named MC Plus +, whose songs include "Code Rage" and "ASCII Antics." For a few years he waged a war of words with his CS rival -- and now friend -- Monzy, a Ph.D. student at Stanford. For a long time those two artists were the kings of CS rap, but the field is expanding fast. Some of the best-known names are Funky49, an IT guy from Florida; High-C, a programmer from Louisiana; and Ultraklsyton, a CS student from Seattle. The dark side of CS is represented in nerdcore too. One of my personal favorite artists is a "reformed" computer hacker named Ytcracker who raps about his days as a "Digital Gangster."

What's the audience for this kind of music?
The audience for nerdcore and CS rap is, of course, people with especially geeky interests, but the appeal of the genre is growing. You don't have to be a software designer to appreciate a smart, witty, well-written track about computer science. People are becoming so tech-savvy so fast that I think intelligent and science-based hip-hop may become a staple of mainstream pop culture someday soon.
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