The worlds of computer science and rap don't often mix, and that's probably a good thing. But since the tech industry was built on innovation, we think Armand Navabi and Dan Maynes-Aminzade are a couple of guys who deserve a look--and a listen. Their innovation blends the world of PhD candidate in computer science with the rough and raunchy world of hard-core rap. The result is a sweetly groovin', code-rich, sometimes very non-PC music genre known as CS Gangsta Rap, aka
Geeksta Rap. Never heard of it? That's not surprising. According to one of its practitioners, it appeals to about 1 percent of 1 percent of the tech community. Hear it, and you'll love it for its clever twining of tech terms with our lingua franca--or be reviled by its over-the-top usage of R- and X-rated lyrics.
One of the founders of CS Gangsta Rap, Navabi started out as Sir Code-a-Lot, but has upgraded his moniker to the pithier MCPlus+. Moving from Tehran, Iran, when he was 3, MCPlus+ grew up in a middle-class American suburb before landing in Purdue's computer science program. The 'burbs are also where Maynes-Aminzade, aka Monzy, came of age, before bringing his rap to Stanford.
Last year, Monzy instigated a rivalry between the two men, writing a rap song that dissed MCPlus+, who in turn wrote his own dis track (see page 20 for sample lyrics). The contretemps has elevated the pair from the unknown to relative obscurity, with a few reporters and a German variety show taking a passing interest. EE Times' Mike Clendenin recently caught up with the two.
EE Times: How did you guys get into Geeksta Rap?
MCPlus+: As an undergrad, I knew a boy who was in CS with me and he started [studying] MIS [management information systems]. We had a friendly rivalry going [between MIS and computer science]. So I had to keep it real, so I came up with a track called "Hit Em Up," and it was a Sir Code-a-Lot track. So Sir Code-a-Lot started this CS Gangsta rap, and that was basically an MIS dis, saying how they have no technical skills and can't compete. A lot of people liked it, and from there it just took off, making a few other tracks, like "AIM Pimp." Then, when I came to Purdue, some people heard my stuff and one of the guys had a studio up in Indianapolis, so we did it for real and came up with a new name, because we had a new thing and were doing it professionally.
Monzy: I'd always been a fan of hip-hop and wished I could be as cool as the rappers whose albums I listened to. Back in high school, I was in this rap group, but I dropped out when I realized how horrible we were and I didn't really pick it up again until I heard MCPlus+'s album [Algorithms] and I thought to myself, "Man I could top that easily."
EET: It sounds like you're kindling the rivalry.
Monzy: I don't really have any personal conflict with MCPlus+. In fact, I sort of secretly respect him, and to some degree I admire his work. But starting this rivalry was purely a career decision. My dis track was pretty harsh, but hopefully he'll think of it as bitter medicine. If it encourages him to rise to the next level and bring CS rap up to the forefront, then maybe that's good.
If some guy is making rap stuff about C programming, your average guy just isn't going to understand it and the news reporters won't [care], but all of a sudden there are these two nerd gangs that are swinging insults at each other, and that is a juicy story. Before all the drama, not all that many people knew about MCPlus+. He was interviewed on some guy's podcast and a few people linked to him in their blogs, but now he has been in Wired [Magazine]. For a geek rapper, I don't think you can hope for much more than that.
MCPlus+: I don't even take that [stuff] seriously. I'm from Phoenix, so I rep East and West Coast. Monzy's a punk. If we had a real West Coast rapper, then I'll come out against anyone who wants to take on MCPlus+. I ain't scared of nobody.
I'm the only CS Gangsta rapper. I'm the founder and the only one out there now besides Monzy. I'm looking forward to hearing some new [stuff] from him. (He pauses.)
The truth is, what Monzy did with this beef he started, it gave us a lot of popularity, you know, and I can't hate on that. We're trying to get ourselves known, and I wouldn't be as known if it wasn't for Monzy, and he wouldn't be as well known if it wasn't for me.