The Rise of Nerdcore Rap: Shadow Moses, the First of Its Name and Breaker of The Reign

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The eruption of the Old Moses volcano formed Shadow Moses, an island that doubles both as a nuclear weapons disposal facility and massive weapons development complex. This is a significant location in the world of Metal Gear Solid, where the armed revolt of two elite black ops unit against the United States took place.

In hindsight, knowing the origins of the popular stealth video game’s incident might have inspired its namesake, the newest rap group in the block, in a local music scene where novelty and battle rap remain to hold the reins, and a filk subgenre such as nerdcore is unheard of. If you look at it, three-piece Shadow Moses is a minority within a minority, within a minority.

Although the nerdcore movement has been around circa 2000, when Damian Hess started releasing some of the earliest known material under the stage name MC Frontalot, there was a Grammy Award-winning single that fit in the nerdcore canon two years prior. Beastie Boys’ “Intergalactic” was released off their fifth studio album Hello Nasty (a sci-fi album in its entirety), with sonic themes and a Japanese Kaiju parody music video that served as a recipe of a nerd and hiphop enthusiast’s wet dream.

It would be interesting to note that rappers and nerds are almost mutually exclusive to each other. However, not all hiphop artists that gravitate towards nerd-centric themes fall under the nerdcore, or even geeksta rap genre; most are categorically billed under experimental and underground hiphop, such as Captain Murphy (Flying Lotus’s animated alter ego) and Daniel Dumille’s MF Doom and Viktor Vaughn. Other examples are the blatantly named Optimus Rhyme, the E.T.-slash-time-traveler Dr. Octagon from Ultramagnetic MCs’ Kool Keith’s eponymous Dr. Octagonecologyst album, and more recently and more prominently, the computer code ambassador, Childish Gambino.

It was only a matter of time we finally got our own.

Formed in late 2015 in Cubao Expo, the trio formally became a hiphop unit as a result of their shared interest in comics, video games, film, science fiction, professional wrestling, and of course, hiphop. Comprised of Chyrho and Ninno on rapping duties and Six The Northstar on beat production, each of them have been heavily involved in the genre before they joined together for Shadow Moses. Chyrho spearheaded the hiphop collective, AMPON (Amplified Messages Personified Over Noise), with B-Roc, with formidable members that include Caliph8, Nimbus9, and MIC. He also owns and operates The Appraisery, a boardgame café, where the trio frequently convenes. Ninno, a wordsmith affiliate of the Logiclub artist collective, is one of the fast-rising rookies in the rap game, whose debut LP Third Culture Kid is a personal vie for the best record of the year so far. Six The Northstar dabbles in funk, soul, jazz, old-school hiphop for most part, as showcased in his most recent beat collection, the cleverly titled, SixTrueMentals Vol. 1, and whose work appeared in several musical projects, including A Problem Like Maria, Archon Akeez, MDK, and Secret Invasion.

On their first outing, Expansion Pack, Shadow Moses debuts with fiery intensity and dynamics, delivered by its two MCs and ingeniously anchored by Six The Northstar’s crafty stitching of dusted samples, ‘90s NYC-inspired beats, unorthodox rock injections, and a hybrid of Matrix- and Terminator-esque blips and bloops.

Expansion Pack’s a six-song collection that explores the realms of millennial culture (there’s a song that put your #throwbacks to shame), a feat that a few have successfully accomplished, musically speaking. Its dark humor and witticisms fare well to the likes of Key & Peele and the Andy Samberg batch of Saturday Night Live, compared to, say, your typical Pinoy’s (lack of) sense of satire and parody. A thin-skinned gopper will take offense at Ninno and Chyrho’s playful jab at Larry Bird (“only Larry I know is the name of my bird”), Eddie Murphy (“what career?”), and C.S. Lewis’s Narnia (“fuck a faun”), and Wu Tang Clan (“Wu Tang won’t be forever without Viagra, no cream” – *insert thundering applause*) – and that’s just in fourth track, “Scott Hall,” alone. “Remember The Titans,” the first single and EP opener, lists down fictional gods, Jesus not included – depends on who you ask – of the upper echelon and briefly mentions the sycamore tree, possibly of biblical or Twin Peaks origin. Fans with great appreciation of b-movies will find track two, “Not Horrorcore,” which contains the EP’s sole feature, with A Problem Like Maria on the hook, a gem that namechecks pop culture deviants and familiar plotlines of slasher films and gore.

Deconstructing the pair’s verses is an extensive, but fascinating, work; their chemistry palpable and their wordplay relatable yet assertively the best (“Helter Skeletron Viktor Vaughn the Console Cowboy” and “Gun them like Bandai, gun them ‘til they all die” – *good god*), bar none. It is bursting with sweeping references not only self-professed geeks will chew on, but film and TV buffs, hiphop heads, gamers, and music fans as well. Shadow Moses did not waste any bar to cover all grounds, which seems overwhelmingly ironic for a niche subgenre.

Shadow Moses, far from the past and current wave rappers in the local music scene, ushers a new reign that widens the berth of the genre. It is a revolt against those holding the reins to rap, underground or otherwise – against the cats whose styles have become lyrical and thematic tropes in hiphop. They’re not playing other people’s game but instead created their own, and like in movies, video games, and comics, it’s an alternate universe wherein they are the conquerors, starfighter pilots, the final boys in horror movies, or even better, the realization of Metal Gear Solid’s Snake’s dream.

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Shadow Moses is set to launch Expansion Packtheir debut EP, on June 17 at SaGuijo. Their first line of T-shirts will also be sold at the show. Supporting acts include Ryoku, Ilustrado, A Problem Like Maria, Duende, and She’s Only Sixteen.

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