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March 1-7, 2006

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MC Lars

Photograph by Sandra Wailb
Never More: MC Lars says he wants to get his Ph.D. in English literature.

File Transfer Complete

MC Lars urges music fans to 'Download This Song'

By Todd Inoue


THERE IS a new song on MC Lars' latest record, The Graduate, about music's inevitable slide to a digital distribution mode. The nerdcore rap "Download This Song" damns major labels' outdated system and the criminalization of music fans with DSL lines. Lars' attitude—downloading is here, get used to it—embraces kids who are willing to borrow and burn CDs from the library or load up iPods through Limewire or friends' desktops. Just as Abbie Hoffman implored counterculture vultures to upend the establishment vehicle in Steal This Book, MC Lars portends downloading to a revolutionary penance for years of expensive CDs and lousy music.

"We just wanted a level playing field," he concludes at the song's end. "You've overcharged us for music for years, and now we're just trying to find a fair balance. I hate to say it, but welcome to the future."

The song was released on Lars' own Horris label, with full blessing of his management company, Nettwerk Music Group. Then things got surreal. Lars read an email on his website from 15-year-old Elisa Greubel, who empathized with the song's message. In late January, Greubel was targeted by the RIAA for downloading music to her family's computer. Greubel's dad was sued by the RIAA for $9,000 because of 600 suspected illegal music files on their computer. They could settle for $4,500 if the family paid within a specified time limit.

Flabbergasted, Lars passed the email to Nettwerk (which also manages Avril Lavigne, who recorded "Sk8er Boi," one of nine songs the RIAA specifically targeted). Nettwerk encouraged the Greubels to fight, agreeing to pay their legal fees, in addition to any fines should the family lose the case against the RIAA. "Litigation is not 'artist development.' Litigation is a deterrent to creativity and passion, and it is hurting the business I love," said Terry McBride, CEO of Nettwerk, in a press release. "The current actions of the RIAA are not in my artists' best interests."

Lars understands that labels are in the business of making money, but that doesn't meant it can push around the people who paid for the pink slip on their Lexus fleet. "The whole inspiration behind the song is this huge paradigm shift," Lars says. "Music isn't something you pay for anymore. It should be free. The way artists make money these days is through T-shirts and touring. Nettwerk is forward thinking and sees that, in 10 years, CDs won't exist. The idea for the song and support of the lawsuit is for us to project, into the future, the right way to deal with situations and make smart guesses about how to survive as artists and on the business end.

"The problem with major labels, if they don't have a hit in a second, they drop the artist," Lars continues. "A management company like Nettwerk is more inclined to have a long-term investment in the career. They try to not do things that major labels do wrong, like dropping artists."

When he isn't lending support to Avril Lavigne fans, Lars keeps on top of his laptop-based post-punk raps and finishing his education. Last fall, he received his English literature degree from Stanford. He toured with Bowling for Soup and Simple Plan. His new album—whose title is a play on Kanye West's College Dropout—spreads his influences farther. There's more punk guitar and Eurodance built upon Lars' propeller-head rap foundation.

Lars' education has honed his critical thinking. He riffs on the teenybopper shrine to mall-rat consumerism on "Hot Topic Is Not Punk Rock." He lists all the junk available—books about Evanescence, Hello Kitty iPod cases, Insane Clown Posse throw blankets, AC/DC hair clips—to make a statement about the easily changed uniforms of rebellion.

"Hot Topic is so corporate, and people don't realize it," he says. "I just took inventory of all the junk they sell under the guise of being ironic and rebellious. I went to stores and made lists; then I went to their website and put things in the narrative of the song. Everything in the song you can buy."

The irony is that Hot Topic carried and was a big supporter of MC Lars' first EP. The Graduate will be available through Hot Topic, Lars says.

"If Hot Topic wasn't going to sell it, people who are buying my music probably aren't going to buy it there, though a percentage might," he supposes.

An Excel spreadsheet also came in handy for "Generic Crunk Rap," a track that filters every Bonecrusher, Lil Jon and Ying Yang Twins cliché into a hilarious spoof of overindulgence: "Phrase about my gun, rhyme about my loot/ Phrase about these haters I sometimes have to shoot/ Rhyme about my clothes, props to my hometown/ Lyrics that say nothing cause that's how we get down."

"That genre of music in 2004-2005—loud, Southern club rap music—I was listening to a lot and realized the production is great and fun to listen to, but the guys don't really say anything new," he says. "I went through a bunch of songs and put a chart together, listing the categories and topics. And those categories became the lines of the song. I thought it would be funny and distill it into form."

His degree allows Lars to incorporate English literature figureheads into rhyme, honoring Herman Melville on "Ahab," while "Space Game" is a song about postmodernist theories popularized by Franz Kafka and e.e. cummings. It's similar to the props extended to Edgar Allen Poe ("Mr. Raven") and William Shakespeare ("RapBeth") on the Laptop EP.

After graduation, Lars moved from the peninsula to Brooklyn. He's bonded with many like-minded cats, hosts a Sirius satellite radio show ("Left of Center") on Channel 26 and is assembling a live band, foregoing the laptop for the first time. His ubiquitous Oakland A's cap has sparked interesting conversations around his new neighborhood. "When I wear my Oakland A's hat, people ask me about 'hyphy'," he says. "That stuff feels like it could be big. It's not as common as N.Y. or L.A. I tell them it's enjoyable and energetic. Maybe the next album will have a hyphy track." Knowing MC Lars, it won't be a "Generic Hyphy Track," but you can bet it will be available for download.


MC Lars, Rifles and Muckruckers play on March 8 at the Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., San Francisco. Tickets are $7 and available through Ticketweb. (415.621.4455)


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