MC Lars is making enemies faster than 50 Cent.
On his new album, The Graduate, the Stanford- and Oxford-educated laptop hip-hop star (see "Former 'Weird Al' Fan MC Lars Pens Brainy Anthems For The Laptop Generation") not only goes after crunk rappers, but the music industry in general, Hot Topic stores and even Ace of Base.
"I think with any artistic endeavor, your chief goal has to be honesty," Lars explained. "Even if it's gonna ruffle some feathers, it's probably good, because so much music is so safe. There are issues of personal safety, which is why I have the disclaimer on the crunk song at the end."
The crunk song, "Generic Crunk Rap," ends with the line "I'm just playing, Lil Jon, you know I love you," but not before ripping the genre to shreds for "not having anything to say."
"Not just with crunk, but with a lot of mainstream hip-hop, it's the lowest common denominator and just mindless," Lars explained. "The crunk beats just fit well with the generic flow and phrases I could think of."
Lars hopes to release "Generic Crunk Rap" as The Graduate's second single, with an accompanying video parodying hip-hop clips. "But to do that, I'd have to make the video awesome, and I'm trying to figure out if I have the budget," he said.
In the meantime, Lars is causing enough of a stir with "Hot Topic Is Not Punk Rock," which he never intended to be a single until influential radio stations like KROQ-FM in Los Angeles began spinning it. Since then, he's been flooded with angry e-mails.
"They're kids who think they're punk and they're like, 'Lars, you wouldn't know what punk was if it hit you in the face,' " he said. "After a while, you realize you can't please everyone. What's funny is, I'm making fun of Hot Topic, and now they're selling my stuff. They're so dumb they don't realize I'm making fun of them and they suck and they have to pretend that they like someone who makes fun of them. They're definitely not punk rock at all."
Cindy Levitt, vice president of music and marketing at Hot Topic, confirmed the chain has in fact been carrying more Lars merchandise since the song surfaced.
"We don't ever want to censor an artist in any way," Levitt said. "Just because they poke fun at us doesn't mean we're going to ban their music or merchandise. In fact, we embraced it. We think it's funny."
And that's exactly how MC Lars pulls off his bitter diatribes, which mostly center on the music industry: They're funny. While downloading has become a mundane topic, it's ear-catching when it's Lars rapping, "It's all about marketing/ Clive Davis see/ If fans buy the shirt/ They get the MP3 for free" on "Download This Song," which features Jaret Reddick from Bowling for Soup.
"I read this book called 'The Future of Music' by this professor, Dave Kusek, and it was interesting to me how there's this giant paradigm shift in the music industry, and the labels aren't willing to accept it," Lars said. "I just wanted to make a song that summed up what the book was about, and it's sort of a letter to labels who aren't getting it."
Lars also goes after the industry on "Signing Emo" and "iGeneration," both of which were first released on 2004's The Laptop EP (see "MC Lars Sends Up Emo On New Single, Which Stars Fake Band Hearts That Hate").
"The two things I mix are satire and pop-culture references," Lars said. "And I love music so much that I am frustrated with all the problems with it. It's legitimate anger, but I find people react better [to humor], and it's hard to ignore that you're writing for an audience. You don't want to tailor your songs to an audience, but if you keep that in mind, it informs your writing. And I think people know me as the guy who makes fun of the music industry."
That's not his only ammo, though. Lars also raps about everything from American history ("If I Had a Time Machine, The World Would Be Fresh") to relationships ("Rapgirl" and "The Roommate From Hell").
"I had a difficult roommate my last semester, but he was not eating dead babies," Lars said, referring to a lyric in the latter. "I'd written a song about this guy, but it was too personal, so I thought it would be funny to write something with Satan as the actual roommate."
Lars even wrote a song about his own songwriting, a tribute to "99 Problems" called "21 Concepts." It's home to the line "I wrote a song about the '90s that sampled Ace of Base/ But I kept it off the album in the interest of taste."
"I like Jay-Z, and I thought it would be a funny way to reference him," Lars said of the track. "And it was a cool way to sum up all the songs that didn't make the album. You can see some are better than others."
MC Lars tour dates, according to his publicist:
- 5/4 - Boston, MA @ Axis
- 5/5 - Hackensack, NJ @ School of Rock
- 5/7 - Centreville, VA @ Bull Run Regional Park
- 5/8 - Wilkes-Barre, PA @ Cafe Metropolis
- 5/9 - Baltimore, MD @ Ottobar
- 5/10 - Charlotte, NC @ Tremont Music Hall
- 5/11 - Atlanta, GA @ The Masquerade
- 5/12 - St. Petersburg, FL @ State Theatre
- 5/13 - Jacksonville, FL @ Jack Rabbits
- 5/14 - West Palm Beach, FL @ Rays Downtown Blues Bar
- 5/16 - Orlando, FL @ Will's Pub South
- 5/17 - Tallahassee, FL @ Beta Bar
- 5/20 - Houston, TX @ Walter's on Washington
- 5/21 - Dallas, TX @ The Door
- 5/23 - Tempe, AZ @ The Clubhouse
- 5/24 - Anaheim, CA @ Chain Reaction
- 5/25 - San Diego, CA @ Soma
- 5/26 - Las Vegas, NV @ Jillian's
- 5/27 - West Hollywood, CA @ Key Club
- 5/28 - San Francisco, CA @ Slim's