EET: Where do you get the ideas for your songs?
MCPlus+: I get them from class. A professor will say something and I'll think up some lines and jot down four or five lines, something like that, and that's how it starts. Then I fill in the rest when I get home. Basically, every rap you hear is built up from about four lines that I come up with in class.
Monzy: I also get a lot of them from CS classes that I'm taking. Or, last year I was studying for qualifying exams and a lot of ideas just popped out at me. I'll be reading a paper and I'll see the term "Hoare semantics" and I'll chuckle and think, well, I could use that in a rap song.
EET: Do you work pretty hard on drafting these songs?
MCPlus+: No, it doesn't take me long at all. I could release another album if I could get the time in the studio. But getting the PhD ain't easy.
Monzy: I work pretty hard. I'd say my rap evolves over the course of a few days or a few weeks, so I'll think of short verses of rap when I'm in class or reading a paper and then I'll jot it down, and later on I'll try to merge those little snippets into some coherent whole.
EET: Is it easy to blend these two styles--tech talk and rap--together without it feeling over the top, or is it supposed to be over the top?
Monzy: Well, rap culture and computer science culture are pretty different. But I like to play off the dual meanings of things. So for me, the best kind of lyric is one that uses the term with different meanings in computer science and rap music. Like in rap music, Yak is how rappers refer to cognac, but in computer science Yacc--Yet Another Compiler Compiler--is a grammar-based parser generator. Or in computer science, linear probing is a technique for resolving collisions in hash tables, but in my rap song I use it to refer to sex.
EET: How far do you think you're going to take this thing?
MCPlus+: The way I see it, MCPlus+ is for real. That's no joke. But is Armand Navabi for real? I'll leave that to the people to decide. When I'm MCPlus+, there ain't no joking around. It's straight CS Gangsta rap. We have a small but loyal following. But you know what? I'm trying to branch out and put CS Gangsta rap on the map. I'm not gonna sell out like Dr Dre sold out. I'm keeping it real. And if not a lot of people understand where we're comin' from, then that's just how it goes.
Monzy: I don't have any delusions of a serious music career. I think the nerdier and more obscure your jokes are, the fewer people will appreciate them, but then, those people who do appreciate them will find them that much funnier. So, in my music I tend toward the extremely obscure--I target that 1 percent of 1 percent that listen to hip-hop and have degrees in computer science, and can make these leaps of understanding required to appreciate my lyrics. So a true geek rapper will never get widespread popularity, but I'm comfortable with that.
EET: Does this in any way help make computer science and engineering cooler?
MCPlus+: I'm trying real hard, but, like, it is what it is. There are a lot of geeks. But I got love for CS; I got love for geeks. It ain't a negative thing. I am what I am.
Monzy: I'm all about shattering stereotypes about computer scientists and trying to give people a picture of someone who does computer science and isn't afraid to admit it, and isn't a big dork. But in the bigger picture, I don't think it's going to be that effective.
There is this Silicon Valley engineer [who] spent a bunch of his savings starting this rap label where he was going to write songs about engineering and science, and the goal was to get kids interested in this stuff. It's a noble goal, but, unfortunately, his music is completely terrible, and I can't imagine anyone ever thinking it was cool to listen to some dorky Indian dude rap about how many transistors fit on modern microchips, much less being fired up by this rap song to pursue a career in engineering.
EET: I don't want to be too harsh, but for the minuscule amount of fame that the two of you have had, are there any benefits? CS girl groupies?
MCPlus+: Oh, man. You know how it goes. You know how it goes. Actually, I ain't gonna lie to ya--there's no CS girls. But we'll be branching out. Give it time; give it time. They'll come.
Monzy: The most interesting thing that happened to me was that a TV producer from L.A. contacted me and said she had been commissioned by a German variety show to do a short feature on nerd rap. So she asked if she could come to Stanford and film me and my geek posse in our natural habitat. I said yes, but then I realized I didn't have a geek posse.
So I called up a few of my friends and we dressed up in these ridiculous nerd rapper outfits, with Linux T-shirts and soldering irons in our belts and Blackberries on chains around our necks, and did goofy [stuff] like cruise around campus on our bikes and smash up old electronic equipment.
EET: Did you get paid?
Monzy: No. There are no riches or women or hotel suites.
EET: No dancing next to scantily clad women in the video?
Monzy: No, it was just a bunch of dorky guys.