Nerdcore Hip Hop is not easily defined. The question of what is, or is not, nerdcore does not have an simple answer. Is there a percentage of songs that must relate closely to fandom, STEM, or high concept to meet the moniker of a Nerdcore Hip Hop artist? Must there be a certain number of pop and counter culture references to make a given song Nerdcore? Is Deltron 3030 a Nerdcore album? Would that make Del himself a Nerdcore artist? What does a Nerdcore Hip Hop Artist even sound like? Nerdcore artist Beefy once compared Nerdcore Hip Hop to Christian Music. It had less to do with the particular stylings of the music and more to do with the messages contained within and how the community was able to connect with it. With all that being said, my name is Steve and this is Nerd Music in Judgment, a Dying of Exposure Series, with the album No Masters 3 by GR3YS0N.
Nerd Music in Judgment is a series meant to expose our audience at Dying of Exposure to geeky music of all types. A large segment, currently, of geek music is couched as a subgenre of hip hop called Nerdcore. In our previous episode, Ultraklystron’s Variable Undefined brought us a very personal, lyrically stripped down, synthetic influenced piece that expressed an experience of looking back and holding his own decisions and connections in judgment from a modern perspective. No Masters 3 is not only a different point of view from the artist, but lives in totally different instrumentations and delivery. It is thick with references to video games, anime, and comics. This album always plays with flow tricks, multisyllabic rhymes, and schemes in a way that would make the listener have to recognize that, while the album bangs like a straight spitting, indie hop hop album on the surface, it is deeply Nerdcore to the very soul of every track.
“Preaching” kicks off the album with a big synthetic organ/choir instrumental and live sounding drums. With lyrics that not only punch with lines referencing big properties like Batman (which makes sense given GR3YS0N’s moniker) but also clever word play related to flipping sayings “if ignorance is misery than being smart is a curse.” Even the construction of particular lines include language of the geek lexicon, such as replacing hometown with home base. Paired with GR3YS0N’s rough voice, this is a strong start in a song that reveals a lot of small pieces of this artist’s life, journey, and relationships as they developed over the last several years in hip hop.
“Real” maintains the same the raw vocal tone but over a more spaced out, chimes and building synthetic chords piece. This is in a similar space as “Preaching” acknowledging detractors and competitors but includes more aspirational lyrics framed more as goals while recognizing their own skills. MangaD guests as the second verse and has a very different delivery than GR3YS0N on this. This comes up as a bit jarring as their vocals feel mixed wholly differently than GR3YS0N. It stumbles an otherwise tightly done song that is a slight left from the first track. But both of these tracks lead comfortably into the next track.
“Hokage” leads with pizzicato strings with some trappy hats and brings back around the wide reverb choral synth-vocals in the background. This is the most direct challenge to haters on the track so far, but with a nice long drop in the second verse, a more spaced, almost cozy flow that fits comfortably to ride the percussion, and a very memorable hook, “Hokage” makes the most of the whole album so far and GR3YS0N’s antagonism against those that would challenge him. It just grooves right and slots perfectly for the mood.
“Embarrassed” is a straight head-nodding boom bap track. The swing of the beat works and here, we see some more straight spitting bars. What helps this song stick out more than the three previous, beyond the pitched down dubs which work amazingly well on the chorus, is that it feels more personal. Where as the previous tracks feel like challenging the public, this track feels more personal, as if it is about a specific personal. This allows us to connect more directly to GR3YS0N. Revealing something more specific about their history and giving that example as a more clear frame of the previous track. Best track of the album so far.
“Do It All” continues this more personal journey, focusing on specific moments like first shows and the early days of mumbling lyrics. It hits early with those Dragon Ball Z references, and sticks to the simple beat/easier flow style of “Embarrassed.” This leans more on particular actual moments, referencing specific compatriots in the voyage from starting to rap to becoming a regular, seasoned performer. The chorus doing grab as well as the previous track, but the personal notes grab me as an audience member and invest me more into GR3YS0N’s experience.
This next track returns to the form of a broader need to express their feelings about themselves and how they fit, often antagonistically, against their field. “For My Hustle” reconnects to the family support foundation with a bit of a sing-song on the chorus and some of the dubs which helps it stand out and features Devin Hailey in the third verse, doing a better job at matching the production feel vocally with GR3YS0N. It comfortably aligns with the previous tracks in delivery and cadence, as well as an instrumentation that is theming along the lines of high pitched strings/bells/keys mixed with natural drums.
“Playin 4 Keeps” continues this same process with a bit more of a foreboding melody and roomier beat. This track holds consistently with the rest of the album but has one of my hands down favorite lines in the album, “You say stay in my lane when you not on the road.” This track gets lost in the album where as “Pardon Me” featuring Mickey Factz comes in with a strong melodic hook right out the gate. Standing out further by having Mickey on the first verse. It returns to the trap influenced hats and the warm synths that are a bit lower, dragged and twisted, and a gentle difference on the production with GR3YS0N’s vocals that I really enjoy. On a side note, I deeply enjoy the video for this. This is right up there with “Embarrassed” as a stand out on the album.
“Make It Out Alive” starts with a demand-your-attention hook that re-introduces those pitched down dubs. The beat and melody behind this is a very metered, almost metronome of an instrumentation which juxtaposes nicely against the more mechanically hype deliveries. It follows “Pardon Me” nice by showing a fully different style than the previous track but sticks strong with good cadence schemes.
Now we get to two tracks that reveal a different sort of take on what makes a song Nerdcore. “Sleep” and “Isekai” go together amazingly. The first, “Sleep”, being a track that is simply about loving to get a good eight hours of sleep. Fan-god-damned-tastic! Tracks like this, about a shared life experience, rarely appear and when they do they feel like an song not looking to bang, impress, or get plays, but just a song about something meaningful to the artist. “Isekai” continues with at first, a contrast. Where “Sleep” was slow with delightful underwater synths that matched the theme, the chorus of Isekai is almost silly in comparison. With a semi-rhodes inspired synth blurred up to back him, this energetic high concept track about falling into a dream world really pops. It is super short and just, fun. The two of these together really hold my interest right in the middle of this long album.
“Wifey” follows as a good little slow-jam love letter to a woman of interest. It is romantic, extremely reference heavy, and very personal. More of a connection with the individual that is GR3YS0N is welcome and appreciated after a pair of conceptual songs that were a bit strange for the album.
Gamer not a Gangster is the battle cry of GR3YS0N. These would be his house words in Westeros. “GNAG” is the anthem for those words and is a crazy beat with a delivery that feels breathless and hectic even when the song slows down. The chorus is meant to be chanted by a crowd. The beat is up, high energy, with almost rushed feeling instrumentation. As an anthem to the person GR3YS0N is presenting, this track works real well, but feels late as this type of declaration in the list of tracks.
A good song that lives inside of property is not simply a list of references or retelling of that property’s narrative but transforms the property to connect with the POV of the artist. Here we have “Streets of Rage 2” doing exactly that. Acting as a filter to express the themes of the album but seated in the game’s world. It works, and the chorus has great chant aspects that would bind the crowd into the artist’s bidding to join him in this song, in this world.
The strong delivery and reference heavy lyricism that have been the backbone of this album live on in the tracks “Cosmo Burn”, “Heroes Saga ft. Crimson Alchemist”, and “Be a King”. These are all solid tracks but would often be termed as “album cuts.” They’re for the fans that have already bought into GR3YS0N, continue to show is ease with both deeply planned flow schemes and bars spitting on more casual beats. Crimson Alchemist blends well with a new flavor as a guest verse on “Heroes Saga” and the lines like “Cause it ain’t over till the sexy thick lady sings” continue to play with coined phrases in fun ways.
“Plus Ultra” is hard for me to judge since I am such a fanboy of all things My Hero Academia. To be clear, I absolutely love this track. So late in the album we get this hype, upbeat instrumentation with so much energy in the chorus and the delivery of the verse. It really opens up on the second verse and rides the beat perfectly and the bridge from the first verse into the hook works wonderfully and is just down right fun.
“Hunters ft. Walter West” and “Letter to M80” are more rooted in verse delivery hip hop. The first sounding like a cypher track with a beat any talented rapper could deliver o, and they both do, and a nice outro glitch the wraps the song nicely. “Letter to M80” is just a short, straight verse that returns to the personal and while it is solid, it feels less like a single verse flex and more like a lifted verse from another of GR3YS0N’s songs. I will admit, this was a bit of a let down as the penultimate final track especially when I saw it was going to be a straight verse.
The closure track is “Shine” and if this had to live on this album it would have to be the last track. With a soulful beat that backs more conflict with the challenge of standing out as a rapper and receiving the respect that GR3YS0N feels, and rightfully so, they deserve, this track nails a clean chorus and stays loose on the verse. As a final bit of flavor, this comes across as recommendations and aspirational rather than fully critical. Recognizing that this was tied to his past, his childhood, but that the shine, so to speak, is something to reach for in other artists as well.
Twenty-one tracks is a lot for a single album, especially in late 2019 when this album released. GR3YS0N lives in a world where they feel they have been underappreciated, doubted, and dismissed, and they are clear that now that they have talent, support, and peer respect, those people can hop-and-go-fuck themselves. That is far from the only note this album hits but it is the strongest note, like garlic in Italian food or friendship in Steven Universe. Amongst this album there are stars that stood out to me, “Embarrassed”, “Do It All”, “Isekai”, “Sleep”, “GNAG”, and “Plus Ultra” are the immediate standouts in my mind. There are also tracks that, while solid, I feel tread the ground of better tracks that may have been moved to a different release for better impact.
I will admit that I do not easily, a performer myself, empathize with GR3YS0N on a level of feeling undervalued. It is not to say everyone loves what I do on the microphone, I am just at peace with the falseness, self-advancing, two-faced behavior of many other artists and performers and I have no expectation of anyone recognizing the work I put into things. That being said, GR3YS0N absolutely deserves the respect of his peers. He is talented, clever, funny, interesting, and does in fact stand out from other emcees in the Nerdcore Hip Hop space.
This album receives a B letter grad from me. It is worth the purchase, and the B is mostly due to the lack of trimming a few tracks off of it. Had it been a tighter release, with fewer tracks that represent similar takes on each other, I think it would have elevated. But, to be clear, there is no track without worth on it. GR3YS0N’s flowmanship and reference heavy words will spark interest in every track.
Thank you GR3YS0N for grinding, honing your craft, and giving me the opportunity to dive into No Masters 3. You can listen to GR3YS0N's Music and watch their music videos via their Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSjW...
And you can purchase their music on their Bandcamp Page:
And follow them on Facebook and Twitter:
Interview Questions with GR3YS0N
How long have you been rapping? How long under NyteXing, and why the change to GR3YS0N?
3 years as maverick da roninn 3 years as nytexing, the reason I changed my name is for a few reasons first me finding out I’m gonna be a father put me in a different mind set not only musically but life wise as well and second I wanted to make a name easier for new fans to find me I realized nytexing was a bit to ... complex I guess.
What is a low moment in your hip hop journey? A place where you felt close to despair, or possibly giving it up?
I made a show series called STAR CITY SHOWCASE in the city where I live, the 3rd one went really bad so thats the closest.
Conversely, what is a high moment, or moments, in your journey?
Honestly 2019 was an amazing year I’ve gotten to perform at several cons like blerdcon, magwest, and famecon but I can say when my name was placed on the top 50 nerdcore rappers list by megaran, he's one of my top five so for me to be recognized that way was amazing.
Your album is 21 tracks, which is a lot for a hip hop album (really any album) and puts it well over 60? What is the impetus for going with that amount? Why not less?
No Masters 2 had about the same amount of songs so I wanted to keep the same energy and honestly it being the 3rd entry to my first project I had a lot to rap about
A lot of your tracks deal antagonistically with criticism, detractors, haters, and the like? Why is so much of this album seated in that subject?
Honestly it’s what I been dealing almost all my life, being a blerd I've dealt with bullys of all kinds and I wanted to speak on it not only for me but for others who go thru it as well.
You talk a lot about your family throughout No Masters 3 and I wonder if they have feelings about your work?
My family loves what I do it took em a while before they understood but they get it now.
Do you consider yourself a nerdcore rapper? otaku rapper? indie rapper?
I'm just a rapper I’m all the above I can rap on many topics and styles.
How do you select your features on the album?
When I hear the beat I have a person in mind of who I like
What is your beat selection process? Where do you gather your beats from and what sort of instrumentals tend to speak to you the most?
When I’m in "album mode" I lowkey have beats I wanna do for certain projects or I find some that fit the album feel that I wanna do I have a lot of producers I go to for beats like gage who made "preachin" "GNAG" & "SHINING" or louispierre beats who made "player one" on "welcome to blüdhaven"
Knowing very little about your career up to this point, do you feel like you've reached your cruising speed? Is there a top point for you? Basically, what's the dream position for you as an artist?
Honestly I wanna keep going as high as I can go. The sky isn’t the lI’mit for me, I started rapping cuz I wanted to have my older brother on a track n that was the first track so after that everything was a bonus
How do people receive you at shows? You're deep reference heavy and in my mind, very nerdcore in that way, does that Impact how you interact with less fandom-focused rappers?
I actually get praise for what I do because I make my songs with the mindset everyone is a nerd, despite what society thinks a lot of ppl watched anime and cartoons, also I make my songs with the intent of it being dope in multiple circles not just nerdcore
Who influenced you? Either on your journey in your early days or influences you now?
Game breax, Judah priest, caust draven, devin hailey, my brother bolo, my uncle meta maestro Mega ran, richie branson, eyeQ, kadesh flow, k-murdock, my teams Otaku gang and T1TANZ and so many others
What music are you listening to right now? Do you feel like that I’mpacts what you create song to song?
Royce da 5'9, kendrick lamar, j cole, pop smoke, lupe fiasco, game breax, sky blew
They all I’mpact me greatly cuz I see directions they go to where I never thought of going