Inside a Starbucks just a few blocks from his northeastern Colorado Springs home, Bryce Case Jr., takes the first sip from his freshly made caramel macchiato and slides into one of the plush chairs near the front window. He glances around the store, and though it's actually quite busy in here today, he doesn't seem to recognize any patrons.
Worse, none of them recognize him.
Not that Case really expected any of them to. He knows there's a limit to the fame he's earned in the past few years as nerdcore rapper ytcracker (pronounced "whitey cracker").
But nerdcore, a hip-hop subgenre made by geeks, for geeks, has gotten some major publicity in the past year, earning coverage in Newsweek and the New York Times. And Case, as ytcracker, has been prominently mentioned in each of these pieces. So his lack of recognition is a little surprising to me, at least.
"My reputation as a hacker has a lot more weight than me being a rapper, at least locally," Case says with a shrug.
And, indeed, Case is quite well known for that work. In 1999, CNN called the then-17-year-old "notorious" when he made headlines by hacking into government Web sites and reprogramming their front pages to display cartoon mockups of himself. Case says he's reformed (he now runs an Internet security company), but he smiles when asked about those days. It's apparent he's quite proud of that work.
His nerdcore fans are too, it seems. Case's hacking days have authenticated his nerdcore persona. 50 Cent has street cred because he's been shot nine times; Case has Net cred because he hacked into NASA.
"It helps with my digital gangster image," he says, this time without a hint of a laugh or a smile.
Sure, he continues, it's funny to hear him reference craigslist, beta testing and HTML code in his rhymes, especially when they're laid over remixed beats from original 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System games, as they are on his Nerdrap Entertainment System album. But there's more to it than that. Nerdcore is a growing movement, he says, and one that many kids can better identify with than hardcore rap.
So it was only a matter of time, then, before nerdcore, which has taken nearly all of its cues the arrogance, the namedropping, the representing from mainstream hip-hop, followed suit in other fashions.
Earlier this year, Case had a public spat with another nerd-oriented rap artist, MC Chris. On a song called "White Warrior," Case called out Chris for using nerdcore's fans to reach a certain level of fame only to back out on those fans once he had tasted a hint of mainstream recognition. The beef was covered by geeked-out cable television channel G4TV. Though slightly different from other rap battles, it ended in classic fashion, with a couple of public apologies.
Or so Case thought. When he learned that MC Chris would be performing at The Black Sheep this week, he approached his old rival, hoping Chris would welcome him as an opening act. But Chris declined.
Case says he wasn't surprised.
"He hates it because every article that he gets mentioned in, I'm right there," Case says. "He hates that I'm in everything he does, because he's giving me press no matter what he does."
When I tell Case that I'm scheduled to speak to Chris on the next day, and I ask if there's anything I should expect from his rival, Case doesn't say anything. He just flashes a knowing smile.
At first, when I get MC Chris on the phone, all is fine. I rattle through some obligatory small talk and Chris rattles through well-prepared responses.
But then he cuts me off and tells me he only has time for one more question. I had wanted to butter him up before asking him about nerdcore, but it looks like I've lost my chance.
So I go for it.
Not surprisingly, Chris, who has appeared as guest on a slew of Cartoon Network's Adult Swim shows (his most memorable turn came as MC Pee Pants on Aqua Teen Hunger Force), isn't too pleased.
And even though he has proudly referenced nerds and his own nerdiness at least four times in the few minutes I've had him on the line, he makes his displeasure clear.
He ends the interview.
None of it surprises Case. Mostly, he says, it disappoints him.
"The scene is so small," he says. "We really need a lot of unity in it."
There is some unity. Next month, Case will perform in Denver alongside MC Frontalot, the man who coined the term "nerdcore." That performance is a big step for Case, who rarely performs near home.
"I have a fear," he says, "of performing locally and not having a big draw."
To his credit, though, Case says he recently finished up a tour of cities like San Diego and Las Vegas, in which he headlined to crowds of thousands.
"To be in my hometown and not be able to pull anything like that, it'd be humbling," he says.
It would have been nice, Case says, to have been able to perform alongside MC Chris. It would have been a way for him to break into the local market that he admits he should have broken into a while ago.
But it's not going to happen. Clearly, there's still beef between these artists not that anyone is in danger of getting hurt, Case points out.
"He doesn't really have to worry about me shooting at him or anything like that," he laughs.
Right. That's not how nerds work. When I ask Case if Chris needs to worry about his site getting hacked, though, he again flashes his knowing smile.
MC Chris with Critical Bill and Plan Be
The Black Sheep, 2106 E. Platte Ave.
Saturday, Oct. 20, 8 p.m.
Tickets: $10, all ages; visit ticketweb.com or call 866/468-7621.
ytcracker with MC Frontalot and Schaffer the Dark Lord
The Marquis Theater, 2009 Larimer St., Denver
Sunday, Nov. 18, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $8 in advance, $10 day-of-show, all ages; visit ticketweb.com.