Panel Recap: The Women of Nerdcore

SAMMUS

[Photo from GGC Flickr]

If there was one panel I was looking forward to the most at GGC ‘16, it was The Women of Nerdcore. Featuring artists SAMMUS and Shubzilla, this panel focused on the interplay between music and geek culture and the female identity in traditionally male dominated fields.

THE TRUE IDENTITY OF SAMMUS/THE ORIGIN STORY OF SHUBZILLA

SAMMUS is a woman of many identities.

As a rapper and producer, SAMMUS, born Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo, has released ten albums, both self-released and through various labels. Her work has often been associated with Nerdcore and often includes lyrics that speak to (among other things) geek culture.

Her musical career started through a desire to make video games, but since she didn’t have programmings skills, she decided to start by making the game’s music. Rapping came into the mix while she was working as a teacher in Texas with Teach for America as a way to inspire her students to learn. Soon the two had blended into the successful music career that we can see today.

It may be a cliche to quote Shakespeare, but asking “what’s in a name?” in conjunction with SAMMUS as a stage name, yields interesting results. SAMMUS is a strong character from the video games Metroid who is revealed to be a woman. Lumumba-Kasongo sometimes wishes she had kep her real name for rap, but she loves her stage name and is proud to be associated with such a powerful character.

She is also a PhD candidate at Cornell University. Her dual identity as hip-hop artist and student can be challenging in an academic setting, but her thinking on the subject has evolved. Although Lumumba-Kasongo didn’t go into why during the panel, SAMMUS said she used keep her hip-hop career secret, but now she’s “over that.”

GGC’s very own Shubzilla started her artistic career as a dancer but stopped because it was taking a toll on her body.

Things changed for her when she accompanied some friends to a Nerdcore show one evening. Shubz was blown away by what she saw. She immediately loved this form of self-expression, and, as she says, she knew she could do it better than the performers on stage that night.

Since then, Shubz has released five albums that are available online. She is very active in the Pacific Northwest hip-hop scene and hosts cyphers with her husband at their home.

Shubuzilla at GGC 16

[Photo from GGC Flickr]

WHAT DEFINES NERDCORE?

SAMMUS has been thinking a lot about the term “Nerdcore” recently. Although she’s not against it, she doesn’t identify as only a Nerdcore artist. When her new song “Weirdo” dropped on NPR in September 2016, they focused only on the nerd part of her work. This was frustrating for her because it did not encompass all of what the song presents. Although the entire third verse of the song is about race, NPR didn’t seem as interested in that aspect of the work.

Shubz says that she identifies mores as an indie rapper. Although she is a geek and often raps about things that could be considered nerdy, she also feels that the title of Nerdcore is a little too restrictive for what she is creating.

However, there is a term that she is currently interested in, “afrofuturism.” Afrofuturism, as SAMMUS informed the crowd, is about projecting African American people into futuristic worlds and storylines through artistic creation. This idea of looking toward the future and seeing African Americans as a vital part of those futuristic worlds is something that inspires her. In fact, she’s seen the first African American woman in space speak three times!

WHAT ARE THEIR ARTISTIC INSPIRATIONS?

SAMMUS gave a shout out to producer Jean Grae, who, like herself, wears many hats as an artist. She also mentioned Bjork, MIA, and her mom. The thing that stands out about these artists for her is that they are women and artists who aren’t afraid to shape shift and grow.

Missy Elliott has been a big inspiration for Shubz. “She’s out there still doing the darn thing,” she said, and the audience agreed. Her other influences include Salt ‘n Peppa and Angel Haze, who inspires Shubz because “she has great flows and is super authentic.”

EVOLUTION

Whenever an artist takes a risk and pushes boundaries they are met with a certain amount of backlash. They were asked, how did they evolve through the backlash of being women of color, geeks, and hip-hop artists?

The label of “female rapper” is often used when women are recognized in the field of hip-hop. SAMMUS is conflicted by the term. She wants to celebrate the fact that she is a woman in hip-hop, but she also feels that the label is used in a way that “separates women from the conversation.”

She has also had the experience of being discredited as a musician, even though she makes it clear in many ways that she is a producer as well as a rapper, many men have asked her “who makes the beats for you?” This points to a continued stereotype in hip-hop that female hip-hop performers are unlikely to make their own music, which is untrue.

Shubz agreed. In terms of live performance, she often feels a need to match the physical size of her male counterparts. She says she feels like she sometimes puts in double the energy “just to be part of the performance.”

CREATION

Once the floor was open to questions, the artists were asked to talk about how they made their music.

Shubz works with producer Bill Beats. Although the process can be different, usually he creates beats and present them to her. They’ll talk about how the track came to be and if he has a concept in mind. If he does, they’ll continue to collaborate from their; if not, she lets her imagination run wild.

As a producer, SAMMUS likes to start by experimenting with different beats in different ways, following what is interesting to her ear. When it comes to writing the words she “follows her interests and takes her time.”

FINAL THOUGHTS

If there was one thing they wanted to impress on the crowd it was don’t be afraid to make your art. No matter the obstacles, “Keep at it. It’s your self-expression.”

The Women of Nerdcore Panel at GGC

[Photo from GGC Flickr]

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Adrienne Clark
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