By Len Pal, Clamrespondent and Co-Host of MC Hawking’s Podcore Nerdcast
We here at Clammedia Towers have some pretty nerdy friends. (We’re drawn to others of our own kind.) And just as communities cheer on the success stories of local athletes, musicians, or businesspeople when they achieve national or global recognition, we must do the same for our local nerds.
Take Ken Lawrence, for example. On the exterior, one might not even notice what a gigantic nerd he is. (Sure, he’s a software engineer, but these days, who the hell isn’t?) Most folks from Gloucester just know him as a guitarist in the heavy metal band F-Bomb, which plays at bars on the North Shore about ten times a year. How nerdy can you be when you’re banging out guitar solos to songs by bands like AC/DC, Iron Maiden, and Tool?
Ken Lawrence performing with F-Bomb
But beneath that badass rocker façade lies a nerdy underbelly the likes of which have not been seen since Lewis, Gilbert, Poindexter, and the rest of the Lamdas went up against the Alpha Betas back in ’84. About sixteen years ago, Ken discovered that his computer at work had a text-to-speech program, and he noticed that when it read what he typed, it sounded a lot like Stephen Hawking. For fun, he keyed in some rhymes and made it rap.
That got a lot of laughs out of his co-workers. He could have just stopped there. Instead, he went home and wrote a few rap songs and put them on the Internet, purporting to be “lost tracks” uncovered from Stephen Hawking’s “largely unknown career as a gangsta rapper”. He created an MC Hawking website that included the songs, lyrics, some brilliantly photoshopped images of Professor Hawking alongside rap legends like Run DMC, NWA, and the Beastie Boys, and a fictional biography of Hawking’s path to rapping.
MC Hawking and Coolio Dropping Science
And people dug it. I mean, like, a lot. Think about it: who was using the Internet for more than e-mail in the late nineties? Mostly nerds. Hey, even the real Stephen Hawking heard it, and found it flattering, likening it to Spitting Image. And right around that time, a couple of other nerdy rappers were putting songs up there too. It became a whole thing. A rapper named MC Frontalot coined the term “nerdcore hip-hop”, and it stuck.
People wanted more MC Hawking tracks, and eventually Brash Records signed Ken to create a full-length album, A Brief History of Rhyme: MC Hawking’s Greatest Hits, released in 2004. It featured staple braggadocio rap tracks like The Mighty Stephen Hawking and E=MC Hawking, gang-style tracks like All My Shootings Be Drive-Bys, and most notably, the science tracks. UFT for the MC explains the concept of a unified field theory, and why it is so important. The Big Bizang describes the birth of our universe. And Entropy uses the melody of Naughty by Nature’s O.P.P. to explain the principles of entropy in such plain English that science teachers started using it in classrooms.
The album also included a few skits voiced by a voice actor named Dave B. Mitchell. You probably don’t recognize his name, but if you play a fair amount of video games, or watch the National Geographic channel, or for some reason you like the San Jose Sharks, you’ve probably heard Dave’s voice. Oh, and did I mention that the album cover art was done by Tony Moore, one of the creators of The Walking Dead?
Album Cover: A Brief History of Rhyme
Great stuff, right? You can listen to it on Youtube or buy it on iTunes (Warning: explicit lyrics and dope rhymes). “Wow, Len!” you’re probably saying. “You’re right! These songs are great. Ken must have gone on to become super rich and famous! And hey, have you lost weight?” Well, maybe a few pounds. It’s a struggle; I mostly work at a desk, and I really like brie, pasta, and Oreos. As for Ken, real life happened. Ken slacked off because like all of us, he has a job, other hobbies, and ten cats. Well, I don’t have ten cats, but Ken tells me that it’s totally normal to have ten, and that having ten cats doesn’t make him weird at all.
So the follow-up album sat on the back-burner for a really long time. A few years ago, Ken said “Hey, I got an idea for an MC Hawking podcast, and maybe that will motivate me to get going on more songs and stuff.” And so we did that, and maybe the effort level on new MC Hawking tracks went from about 5% to about 15%. But then one night when we were about to record an episode of the podcast, Ken said “Check out this e-mail I just got…”
It was from Deborah, Stephen Hawking’s personal assistant. She was writing because this year’s Starmus Festival in Spain’s Canary Islands was going to honor Stephen. The festival’s founder, Garik Israelian, hoped that MC Hawking could come to the festival to perform for the professor.
That’s right, they want MC Hawking to perform live on stage for the real Stephen Hawking (along with all of the other attendees and delegates, including eleven Nobel laureates, a handful of famous musicians and composers, and a whole bunch of scientists and astronauts. They’re nerds, but will they get it? We hope so. But how the heck do you perform an MC Hawking track live? They know the voice comes out of a computer, right?
The festival was hoping Ken would write a new song, and figure out a way to make it work on stage. They also hoped he’d allow a guest on the track, and spent a lot of time trying to get RZA from the Wu, but there were communication issues, and so Ken reached out to MC Lars, a nerdcore rapper most known for rapping about literature. (I wrote about him for the Clam a while back.)
The finished product is a track called Fear of a Black Hole. Inspired by Stephen Hawking’s recent discovery that energy isn’t destroyed in a black hole, but instead is simply changed, the track applies that as a metaphor for dealing with adversity or depression: “No matter how low you go, energy can never be destroyed.” To make the song work for a live performance, it includes verses using the regular “MC Hawking” voice (as well as a verse by MC Lars), and Ken’s and MC Lars’ voices on the chorus. Ken will also perform the guitar solo live.
And so on Sunday, Ken will be arriving in Tenerife. (And me too, because I weaseled my way into the trip.) On Wednesday, he’ll perform.
It’s been a long time coming, so go on: Cheer for your local nerd hero.
Sure, let’s send a bunch of pale nerds to a subtropical island.